Waiting for the Gang of Six

While public attention is almost entirely focused on the death of Osama bin Laden, the so-called “Gang of Six” may be planning to launch their budget under the radar — because that may be the only way it moves forward.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-ND) told Fox News Sunday that the Gang would become irelevant in the deficit reduction discussion unless it released a plan soon. The Hill goes even further:

Even if the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of senators, can agree on how to cut the federal deficit, their plan will land with a deathly thud on Capitol Hill unless lawmakers in both parties quickly support it.


It isn’t clear whether their plan — details remain under wraps — will have a better chance than others of becoming the basis for a grand deal capable of garnering the necessary 60 votes. That would require lawmakers to shrug off opposition from the ideological wings of both parties and overcome other obstacles.

Shrugging off the opposition turns out to be easier imagined than done in a democratic republic:

Skipping a Budget Committee markup and moving the bipartisan Gang of Six’s deficit-cutting proposal directly to the Senate floor would be a risky strategy, budget experts say.

Doing so would prevent liberal and conservative critics from getting a crack at the plan in committee, but could poison the well and eliminate the spirit of bipartisanship that is crucial if the bipartisan group is to release a plan with any hope of becoming law.

The spectre of bypassing the normal process was raised by the Budget Committee’s ranking mamber, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL), who is tired of “self-appointed groups” trying to circumvent the normal legislative process. Conrad’s spokesman says he had heard nothing to suggest the chairman was considering skipping the committee, but that doesn’t mean much.

Moreover, Conrad need not skip the Budget Committee if he wants to try to steamroll the process. As committee Republicans noted in a recent letter to Conrad, “[i]n recent years, budgets have been presented, marked up and passed out of committee in less than 48 hours–with hardly any time for the public or committee members to read, much less analyze, the resolutions’ content.” The GOP members of the committee have asked that whatever Conrad proposes as his budget markup be posted online at least three days before any committee consideration, but Conrad has yet to agree.

Furthermore, Conrad — historically viewed by Republicans as perhaps the most sensible and serious Democrat when it comes to deficit reduction — has been missing in action from the public debate over the debt this year, with the notable exception of some unusually partisan comments about the House budget resolution.

Conrad ought to recognize that trying to fast-track a Gang-based budget plan through his committee is a bad idea. Past budgets may have been rushed, but the post-TARP, post-ObamaCare political environment has put a distinct stink on backroom deals foisted on the public under claims of a crisis. Conrad, as a retiring Senator, is undoubtedly considering his legacy. If he continues on the partisan path he seems to be taking, he will be trading a legacy for that stink.