Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has decided to exit the “Gang of Six,” a bipartisan group that has been working on a deficit reduction proposal since the beginning of the year.
“I’m giving it a rest, because we’re at an impasse,” he told Trish Turner of Fox News. “We have to accomplish certain things if we’re going to get a deal, and we’re just not where we can meet the demands of what I think we have to have to fix our problems.”
Impasses are restful places, most easily reached by riding on the third rail of politics. The L.A. Times says Coburn got there by proposing “cuts to Medicare that were considered unacceptable.” I’ll bet those were some interesting conversations.
Coburn brought a lot of waste-cutting credibility to the Gang of Six, whose other Republicans are Saxby Chambliss of Georgia and Mike Crapo of Idaho. His willingness to also consider tax hikes (or, more properly, ending certain tax deductions) was not appealing to the Republican base, but the Gang of Six is significantly less appealing without him.
Now that House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) is talking about trillions in spending cuts, the Gang of Six project was already looking rather obsolete. They were still more interesting than Vice President Joe Biden’s working group of congressional leaders, who think they might have found a measly $150 billion of common ground.
On the other hand, just a few weeks ago we were told that cutting more than $38 billion from the federal budget was a horrifying offense against democracy, and indeed humanity, which would leave female and elderly corpses strewn across the fruited plain. The terms of the debate are shifting. I don’t blame Tom Coburn for growing tired of spending pointless hours in the Gang of Six tree house, when more exciting discussions are beginning elsewhere.