Senate moderates forming "gang of six" to push deficit reduction

In addition to Chambliss and Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who are personal friends of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio), the Gang of Six includes Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a close adviser to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.); Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee; and Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.), the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate and a close Obama ally. Warner is the former governor who famously balanced the Virginia budget…

The group has been meeting weekly, while about 30 other senators are watching from the sidelines to see whether the talks produce a politically viable deficit-reduction plan they can back. Supporters include Senate veterans such as Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and newcomers such as Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), a freshman facing her first reelection campaign next year. Klobuchar called the Gang of Six “an island of rationality” in a sea of denial about the nation’s fiscal problems…

“None of us have ever voted for a tax increase, and I don’t intend to,” Chambliss said Monday. But the tax system is “way out of kilter,” producing $1.1 trillion in revenue in 2009 while giving away $1.6 trillion in deductions and other breaks, he added. “We can do it in a fair and reasonable way and . . . actually lower rates and at the same time raise revenues.”

At the same time, the effort is also attracting strong supporters. This week, Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson, the leaders of Obama’s fiscal commission, are launching their own campaign to promote the Gang of Six talks. And despite reluctance at the White House to engage publicly on the issue, Bowles said in an interview that the president has named Vice President Biden as his “point guy” on the talks.