When a trial balloon is shot at simultaneously by the Service Employees International Union and a number of the 87 Republican freshmen in the House of Representatives, it probably won’t fly high or for long.
That’s about the condition of the proposed budget agreement embraced by the President on Tuesday afternoon and crafted by the “Gang of Six”—the bipartisan group of U.S. senators committed to a compromise on the budget in order to secure a vote to lift the debt ceiling Aug. 2.
“I think [the Gang of Six plan] is a very significant step,” Obama told reporters at the White House in an unexpected appearance. “The framework they put forward is broadly consistent with what we’ve been working on in the White House.”
“Framework” may be the key word in explaining the problems this “very significant step” will have in breaking into a stride in Congress. As of Wednesday, all that existed was the “framework”—that is, a broad-brushed, five-page “executive summary” of a plan to “slash our nation’s deficits by $3.7 trillion/$3.6 trillion over 10 years,” “stabilize our publicly held debt by 2014,” “reduce our publicly held debt to roughly 70% of our economy by 2021,” and impose “unprecedented budget enforcement.”
It is how those goals are reached, and the lack of details in the executive summary that have spawned early skepticism from some and outright denunciation by others on Capitol Hill yesterday.
“Look, this is all we have to go on,” Sen. Jim Inhofe (R.-Okla.) told HUMAN EVENTS, holding up the five-page synopsis of the Gang of Six plan. “I’m not ready to say how I feel one way or another until I get more details.”
Freshman Sen. John Hoeven (R.-N.D.) also voiced his doubts about embracing the “Bipartisan Plan to Reduce Our Nation’s Deficits” (the official name of the Gang of Six proposal) without more details. As he told HUMAN EVENTS, “It’s the revenue part [the portion that says, “Tax reform must be estimated to provide $1 trillion in additional revenue to meet plan targets and generate an additional $133 billion by 2021”] that worries me. Any tax expenditure has to be accompanied by an overall tax-rate reduction, as far as I’m concerned.”
Hoeven recalled his own two terms as governor of North Dakota, in which “any revenue increase we got came from rate reduction,” and that the state retired its deficit and built a “rainy-day fund” by reducing corporate and personal income taxes and property taxes.
Others on Capitol Hill were immediately put off simply because this plan came from a bipartisan group of senators—still another “gang” of lawmakers who somehow try to influence the full, 100-member Senate. Two years ago, the “Gang of Six” referred to lawmakers of both parties who tried to reach a “bipartisan” solution on health care. As far back as 1982, a “Gang of 17” in the Senate helped craft the Tax Equity and Fiscal Responsibility Act (TEFRA), which had limited loophole-closing tax increases in return for an agreement to cut spending. Ronald Reagan ended up signing it and later wrote: “The Democrats reneged on their pledge [to cut spending] and we never got those cuts.”
Look Who’s Fighting the Gang of Six
Within 24 hours, one of Obama’s major backers in 2008 weighed in strongly against the Gang of Six proposal.
“We have serious concerns about the potential impact of the Gang of Six proposal on working families,” declared Mary Kay Henry, president of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). “Specifically, the proposed cuts to Medicaid and Medicare would raise costs and limit availability of health care to the most vulnerable among us, including seniors, people with disabilities and children.”
Henry also said that the proposal “falls short on revenue generation”—meaning it does not call for raising taxes enough.
On the House side, freshman Republicans almost seemed anxious to criticize the proposal crafted in the Senate and blessed by the White House,
“The Senate has failed to do their job and pass a budget in the last 812 days,” Rep. Ann Marie Buerkle (R.-N.Y.) told HUMAN EVENTS. “Now they want to increase taxes by trillions of dollars and still not tell us specifically how they will cut the budget until after we are locked into a new process. It’s a bad idea trying to provide cover for their lack of work. Just do your job. Pass a budget. No gimmicks needed.”
Fellow freshman Rep. Jeff Landry (R.-LA) agreed, saying, “The Gang of Six proposal is like a mini-ObamaCare, requiring us to vote for it before finding out what’s in it. What talks straight to the American people, their 200 pages or our four pages? The Cut, Cap, and Balance Act is the plan that the Senate and the President should embrace.”
“I plan to wait and see exactly what this plan will look like when it comes out of the Gang of Six before I decide,” said Rep. David Schweikert (R.-Ariz.). “However, I believe the only real plan up until now is the one the ‘Gang of 234’ passed last night. The only way to solve our debt crisis is to cut, cap and balance.”
It seemed to be unanimous on the House side. Until more details are forthcoming, the Gang of Six and the White House will go nowhere with their plan. Rep. Bill Huizenga (R.-Mich.) was right on the mark: “We won’t consider it until we have not just a plan, but the text of a bill.”
Sign up to the Human Events newsletter