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Why We Need the (Gentlemanly) Gang of Six

May 12th, 2011 . by economistmom


Some (bipartisan) members of the (nonpartisan) Concord Coalition’s Board of Directors recently issued this statement supporting the efforts and spirit of the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Six”–Senators Saxby Chambliss (R - Ga.), Tom Coburn (R - Okla.), Kent Conrad (D - N.D.),  Mark Crapo (R - Ida.), Richard Durbin (D - Ill) and Mark Warner (D - Va.), who have been working together on a bipartisan agreement modeled along the lines of the recommendations of the President’s (Bowles-Simpson) fiscal commission.  The Gang of Six seems to be laying low lately, perhaps not wanting to get in the way of the Biden talks, but as our board members stress, there are several reasons why this group of senators is the right way to work toward a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction and why we need them to maintain an active role in this big drama:

The group’s work is important for several reasons:

It addresses a crucial need. There is no question that current fiscal policy is unsustainable and that legislative action is needed to avoid a crisis…

It recognizes that there must be a comprehensive solution. The natural tendency in Washington is to begin deficit-reduction negotiations by taking things off the table. This may please each party’s political base but it makes it all the more difficult to agree on a plan with credible numbers and political viability…

It is bipartisan. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and even if one did, neither party has the votes nor the public trust to muscle through a one-sided solution…

It is unique. Bipartisan cooperation on deficit reduction is in short supply. The budget adopted by the House of Representatives has no support from Democrats and thus no chance of becoming law. Similarly, the President’s budget has no support from Republicans…

It could produce a plan for others to rally around. As of now, members of Congress and the public have a choice between partisan plans, which will get us nowhere, and the status quo, which is unsustainable. If the Senate group is able to agree on a plan, it will serve as a beacon for those who wish to support meaningful bipartisan solutions. It would spark a more realistic debate about the inevitable trade-offs that must be confronted and marginalize those who insist that their way is the only way…

To this list, we could add that the Gang of Six act like gentlemen to each other and don’t call each other names–quite the contrast to the behavior of the political leadership, whose trench-warfare style is something that the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold points out only makes agreement (and let’s not say the seemingly-poisoned word “compromise”) even more unlikely:


That’s the frustrated conclusion that America’s professional negotiators have reached, after watching Washington’s politicians begin their own negotiation over the national debt ceiling.

These professionals are ex-FBI agents, labor mediators, divorce counselors. They have learned the rules that help resolve unsolvable standoffs: Don’t lie to a man on a high ledge. Don’t box yourself in with sweeping threats. Don’t tell your adversary to “act like an adult.”

Now, they have watched the two parties bend or break those three rules. They worry that the politicians’ mistakes might only prolong their dispute — at a moment where every day of delay adds to Wall Street’s worries.

And it bugs them to see their art practiced this way. It’s one thing, negotiators say, to threaten the country with financial calamity if your demands aren’t met.

It’s another thing to do it incorrectly.

One Response to “Why We Need the (Gentlemanly) Gang of Six”

  1. comment number 1 by: Gipper

    The Gang of 6 have to come to a GDP Agreement. This is the long-term percentage of GDP spent at the federal level. Once they can do that, the pieces fall together quite easily.

    In 2035 are we really going to tolerate 30% of GDP going to federal expenditures? Or are we going to be financially sound with 19% of GDP going as tax revenues to support these expenditures?

    My guess is that the Gang of 6 are going to come to a number like 21%. That will entail huge cuts in Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security.

    Sure, defense will get some cuts, but defense is driven by threats that wax and wane, and the federal government is the only body that can do defense. For healthcare and retirement, we have many other options to consider so that is where the bulk of the cuts will have to come from.

    Basically, the Democrats are going to have to admit fiscal failure. Their dreams about a generous welfare state was ultimately predicated upon having large cohorts of younger workers at the base of a population pyramid supporting a small apex of old retirees at the top. Now that the pyramid is looking more like a rhombus, this dream is just not mathematically sustainable. Once the Democrats give up and admit this fact, and concede spending cuts are required, then Republicans can let down their anti-tax guard and accept revenue increases.