Senators reconsidering ‘Gang of Six’ plan



ALBANY — When U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson and U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop sang the praises Monday of the “Gang of Six” and its efforts to solve the country’s debt ceiling crisis in 2011, one of the principal members of that group was sitting between them.

Georgia’s senior senator, Saxby Chambliss, R-Moultrie, was one of a group of six senators — three Democrats and three Republicans — who sought a solution to the debt ceiling impasse that threatened to shut down the federal government. And while the group’s efforts were at the time rebuffed by Congress in favor of a temporary fix that has the nation on the brink of $1.2 trillion in mandatory cuts — a concept called sequestration — that will come in addition to cuts imposed by a spending freeze, the Gang of Six plan is now being reconsidered as a Jan. 2, 2013 deadline for budget compromise approaches.

Isakson, R-Atlanta, said at a meeting called by Chambliss and also attended by Bishop, D-Albany, in Albany Monday that 46 U.S. senators — 23 Democrats and 23 Republicans — had signed a letter supporting the principles of the “Grand Bargain” drawn up by the Gang of Six (which also included Democrats Mark Warner of Virginia, Dick Durbin of Illinois and Kent Conrad of North Dakota, as well as Republicans Mike Crapo of Idaho and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma). And Chambliss said that proposal “addresses every single one of the issues” being dredged up by the threat of sequestration.

“There are a lot of Democrats (in Congress) who cringe at the thought of reforming entitlement programs, and there are a lot of Republicans who cringe at the thought of increasing revenues through taxes,” Chambliss said after hosting a town hall-type meeting held to both educate and call local citizens to action to help ward off the possible impact of sequestration cuts.

“I hate to see us in a position where we’re forced to do some of these things, but the country is in trouble. What we’ve proposed (with the Gang of Six) will, unfortunately, bring some amount of pain to everyone, but if we don’t make that one of the requirements, we haven’t done our job.”

The Gang of Six’s Grand Bargain called for cuts of roughly $3.7 trillion from the federal deficit over 10 years and included tax revenue increases through a number of means. Congress rejected the plan, deciding instead to rely on a “Super Committee” to come up with a more palatable plan. The Super Committee failed, leaving Congress to count down the sequestration “trigger” drawn into the Budget Control Act. That trigger would mandate $1.2 trillion in cuts over the next decade as well as cuts brought about by the freeze enacted to keep spending at 2011 levels.

“In the Senate, we’ve had 46 sign on to a letter that adheres to the basic principles of the Grand Bargain,” Chambliss said. “I’ve had a lot of emails and comments from people who criticized (the plan) at first who are now giving it a second look. That’s rewarding, I think.

“But we still have a lot of work to do to solve this crisis. There is no silver bullet.”