Jonathan Chait

Gang Of Six Has Last Gasp

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The Senate "Gang Of Six" today made a final push for its deficit reduction proposal, announcing that apostate gang member Tom Coburn had rejoined the group, releasing its plan, and unveiling numerous Senatorial endorsements. President Obama praised the group and its plan at his press conference today.

The question I have here is the same question I've had all along: How do they think this plan will get through the House of Representatives? Every article I've read over the last half a year asserting that there's a strong desire among members of Congress to pass a bipartisan deficit bill focuses entirely on the Senate. And, indeed, there do seem to be quite a few Senators interested in bipartisan compromise on the deficit. I have yet to see any evidence of such a desire on the House side, save John Boehner's brief hypnotic spell from which he was rudely awakened with the discovery that no members of his caucus would support him.

The thing to understand about the House Republican caucus is that it's riven between anti-government fanatics and anti-tax fanatics. The anti-government fanatics either oppose any increase in the debt ceiling, or will only do so in return for President Obama offering complete and unconditional surrender in the form of accepting the Paul Ryan budget or a Cut, Cap and Balance constitutional amendment. This faction wants to hold the debt ceiling hostage until its demands are met, and tends to express skepticism toward warnings that a failure to raise the debt ceiling might have adverse economic effects.

The opposing faction is the anti-tax fanatics. This group favors the Mitch McConnell plan to raise the debt ceiling without a deficit agreement, because it fears that any such agreement will include tax hikes. That those tax hikes would come in the form of closing tax expenditures, with the cost offset by lower tax rates, mollifies them not one iota. That's why the McConnell plan has the support of such normally staunch partisans as the Wall Street Journal editorial page and Grover Norquist.

Neither of these factions is a plausible candidate to support a Grand Bargain. In theory, you could image a minority of the House GOP caucus supporting such a plan along with a strong majority of Democrats. But remember that John Boehner needs the support of most House Republicans to keep his job. I suppose it's possible to imagine a sequence of events in which Boehner supports a Gang of Six-style Grand Bargain, it passes over the objection of most House Republicans, and then Boehner quickly discovers a burning desire to help humanity via a private sector job.

Barring such a scenario, I don't see how this goes anywhere.

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