Coburn, Norquist, and the Gang of Six

COBURN, NORQUIST, AND THE GANG OF SIX…. We don’t know what they’ve come up with, or when we’ll see the details, but it sounds as if the so-called “Gang of Six” will come up with some kind of bipartisan debt-reduction plan., probably pretty soon.

The Senate’s “gang of six” appears to be headed toward a budget compromise that would boost tax revenues and rein in popular entitlement programs, according to a Democrat and a Republican from the bipartisan group who appeared Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“If we don’t have an agreement soon, we won’t be relevant to this discussion,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said. “We intend to be relevant. We have made enormous progress in this group. It is the only bipartisan effort that is under way, and at the end of the day it has to be bipartisan or nothing is going to happen.”

Also over the weekend, we learned that Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the gang’s only professed liberal, noted that he’s heard Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) deliver “the doomsday speech” — the one in which the right-wing Oklahoman explains how the debt will destroy civilization as we know it — and was apparently worn down by it. “He has convinced me,” Durbin said. “This is serious, and if we don’t do something, and do it quickly, bad things can happen, in a hurry.”

Perhaps now would be a good time to note that Coburn, a physician with no background in economic, fiscal, or monetary policy, doesn’t really understand these issues.

Nevertheless, Coburn continues to note that he’s prepared to accept some higher taxes as part of the larger compromise. He told NBC yesterday that he’s aware of his 2004 pledge not to raise any tax on anyone by any amount, but may feel inclined to do the right thing anyway.

“Which pledge is most important… the pledge to uphold your oath to the Constitution of the United States or a pledge from a special interest group who claims to speak for all American conservatives when, in fact, they really don’t?” Coburn asked. “The fact is we have enormous urgent problems in front of us that have to be addressed and have to be addressed in a way that will get 60 votes in the Senate… and something that the president will sign.”

“Where’s the compromise that will save our country?” Coburn added. “This isn’t about politics that is normal.”

Norquist responded soon after, “Coburn said on national TV today that he lied his way into office and will vote to raise taxes if he damn well feels like it, never mind what he promised the citizens of Oklahoma. Sen. Coburn knows perfectly well that the pledge is not to any organization but to the citizens of his state. He lied to them, not to Americans for Tax Reform.”

The running feud between Coburn and Norquist is of some interest, but the larger point is that Norquist may prove to be more persuasive to congressional Republicans. Indeed, there’s no guarantee anyone outside the Gang of Six will actually like what they’ve come up with. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) last week vowed to kill any deal that included even a penny in tax increases, and it’s likely most, if not all, Republicans outside the gang will reach the same conclusion. This isn’t just true of the Senate, where 60 votes will be a very heavy lift, but also in the House, where a radicalized caucus just voted to cut taxes by trillions as part of their fraudulent attempt at fiscal “responsibility.”