Debt-reduction talks inch forward

Members of the “Gang of Five” — the artists formerly known as the “Gang of Six” — have continued their negotiations in recent weeks, even after the departure of Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). They’ve apparently made some progress, at least amongst themselves, to the point that they’ve begun presenting their compromise plan to their Senate colleagues.

Though details of the proposal remain sketchy, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said a bipartisan group of 18 or 19 senators joined the “Gang” for a presentation yesterday. The members’ hope is to generate some broader support for the plan before its formal release. Beyond that, we just don’t know much else about the compromise, other than the fact that it appears to be a $4.7 trillion package.

Unfortunately for the “Gang,” these five members may be too late — the attention has now shifted heavily to the other bipartisan debt-reduction talks, which also appear to be advancing.

Amid fresh signs of a faltering economic recovery, bipartisan negotiations to rein in the national debt shifted into high gear Thursday as lawmakers in both parties called for a quick resolution to the talks as the best medicine for the shaky economy.

Vice President Biden met for the first time in two weeks with six congressional negotiators in a session focused largely on Democratic demands for more revenue as part of any debt-reduction deal. The group agreed to pick up the pace of the talks, with three sessions scheduled for next week, in hopes of presenting the framework of an agreement to President Obama and congressional leaders by the end of the month.

Participants were all smiles after the discussion wrapped up for the day, but it’s still hard to imagine what kind of agreement can be reached. Yesterday, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner made a presentation on the need for additional revenue, leading Republicans to remind officials that the GOP-led House would not only reject any compromise that raises taxes on anyone, but they would also cause a recession on purpose unless Democrats met their demands.

Dems, of course, are saying the opposite. “We’ve made clear, meaning the vice president and Democrats, that when you’re talking about cutting important investments, you also have to get rid of subsidies for the oil-and-gas industry and cut corporate pork,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), one of the negotiators, told The Hill. “You need to have that to have a balanced and credible approach to the deficit.”

Unless Republicans suddenly discover a willingness to compromise — an unlikely scenario — I don’t see how negotiators will bridge this gap. But they’ll apparently keep trying.

After the talks, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) issued a statement insisting that the debt and deficit are largely responsible for “the problems surrounding the lack of job creation and growth in this country.”

Not that it matters anymore — we’re well past the point at which reason has any bearing on the debate — but it’s worth noting that the evidence to support Cantor’s argument still doesn’t exist.