Despite months of media hype, I've expressed long-standing, deep skepticism that the Senate "Gang of Six" would ever succeed in getting a deficit agreement passed into law. The final stages of the group are just plain sad:
In a last-ditch effort to make their deficit-cutting ideas relevant to the debt ceiling debate, the remnants of the Gang of Six will give a presentation on their plan to a bipartisan group of about 50 senators on Tuesday morning, according to several congressional sources.
Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) plan to go over the broad outlines of a finished proposal that would cut roughly $3.6 trillion in spending over 10 years from the federal budget.
The Gang of Six — now actually just five senators — has held a series of small-group discussions in recent weeks to try to build new support for their approach. But Republicans Chambliss and Crapo have withheld their public support for the deal because fellow Republican Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) walked away from the deal in May over a failure to cut discretionary spending and Medicare as deeply as he would like.
How predictable was this failure? The exact same thing happened in health care. Six Senators, evenly divided between the parties, started negotiating on a bipartisan plan. They called themselves the "Gang of Six." Then the most conservative Republican bolted. Then the other republicans started backing away from the deal, ultimately indicating they wouldn't support it even if it reflected their own proposal.
Senators remain strongly attached to the folklore of bipartisanship. But no amount of meetings, charm, pleas, and dealing can get Republicans to break loose from their party's caucus discipline. The modern Republican Party is a parliamentary party. Maybe you can still forge bipartisan deals on minor issues. But on major policy questions in which party activists and pressure groups take an interest, forget about bipartisan wise man deals. If you think that can still work, you're living in the past.