Senator Tom Coburn has unexpectedly announced that he is abandoning the “Gang of Six,” a bi-partisan group of three Democratic and three Republican Senators who have behind the scenes tried to find $4 trillion in budget cuts.
Coburn was the highest profile Republican of the group, the toughest fiscal hawk and the closest Republican Senator to President Obama. His departure potentially spells a collapse of the group. It may stiffen other Republicans to toughen their position with the Democrats and the White House over spending.
His departure also comes the same week the U.S. treasury hit the debt ceiling limit of $14 trillion. Democrats and Republicans spent the last several weeks in New York City with Wall Street analysts to assess the fallout in the bond market if the debt ceiling was not raised. Democrats want the ceiling raised while Republicans want it raised only if there were a commensurate cut in spending.
Coburn’s departure assures that the Gang of Six experiment will lose credibility among budget-cutting conservatives. It also may send a message to Wall Street that Washington is not serious about cutting the budget and control runaway federal spending .
In an email from John Hart, the Senator’s communications director, his office announced that the negotiations have “reached an impasse.” Coburn said he is “disappointed the group has not been able to bridge the gap between what needs to happen and what senators will support.”
Coburn said he “decided to take a break from the talks.”
The group held out the promise of a genuine negotiated settlement to cut at least $4 trillion in federal spending over the next decade. Away from the super-heated Washington debate, there was a sense that the political range of the Gang of Six could quietly cut a sensible deal that could truly cut spending.
The group included the number two ranking Senator Dick Durbin (R-Ill), a fierce liberal and moderate North Dakota Democrat Kent Conrad (D-ND) along with Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). Rounding out the Republicans were Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-GA) and Michael Crapo (R-IL).