Gang of Six Senators: Who Are They, Can Their Debt Plan Pass?

A bipartisan posse of senators is attempting a bold end-run around conventional wisdom in Washington.

The so-called Gang of Six -– three conservative Republicans, three liberal Democrats -– hopes to prove that members of both parties can defy intransigence, reaching common ground on tax hikes and spending cuts to knock trillions off the national debt.

So who are these unlikely "gangsters," and do they think their plan has legs?

Republicans

Coburn ditched the Gang in May after months of negotiations turned sour. Now he's back, and pushing its plan.

The 63-year-old obstetrician, known on Capitol Hill as "Dr. No" for blocking bills he finds unconstitutional, isn't running for re-election, and he says he's not afraid to take an unpopular stance.

"I'm going to do what's best for the country, not what's best for Tom Coburn, not what's best for the Republican Party. I'm going to do what I think is best for the country," Coburn told Fox News Tuesday night.

Coburn's prescription is for changes to entitlement programs, that would likely include raising the retirement age for Medicare and Social Security and means-testing benefits, while also changing the tax code to eliminate loopholes and deductions while lowering rates overall.

Coburn said the plan, which changed the dynamic of the debt debate upon release Tuesday," has "real potential right now."

Republicans

Chambliss, one of the most conservative members of Congress, is no fan of higher taxes. But the 67-year-old says closing tax loopholes and eliminating deductions, which could result in higher taxes for some people, is acceptable as part of the Gang of Six deal.

Their plan calls for changes to the tax code that he says would lower personal and corporate income taxes overall.

Will House Republicans buy it? "I'm at least cautiously optimistic that we've got another idea on the table," he told the Atlanta Journal Constitution.

And of those who might oppose it, he says, they simply "don't want to solve the problem."

Republicans

Crapo, 60, won a perfect rating from the American Conservative Union last year. Like Chambliss, he opposes the tax increases that had been proposed by President Obama and some Democrats to help close the budget gap.

The three-term senator says he backs the Gang of Six plan because it would pump more revenue into government coffers without raising tax rates.

"This is going to stimulate our economy, reduce rates and generate a much larger economic pie from which we can apply revenues to debt retirement," he said in an interview Tuesday with Bloomberg News.

Democrats

Conrad chairs the Senate Budget Committee, and without a re-election campaign on the horizon for the first time in 20 years, he's putting it all on the line.

The 63-year-old Democrat is unabashed in his support for changes to federal entitlement programs, such as Medicare and Social Security, so that their solvency can be maintained.

"These ideas that we don't have to make any changes, don't change any entitlement, don't change any revenue program, don't change any spending program, are just wrong," he told CNN Tuesday. "And they are leading our country toward the fiscal cliff and a collapse that would damage everyone."

Earlier this year, Conrad told ABC's Jonathan Karl that he is personally invested in the Gang of Six deal. "I certainly hope this leads to a result because otherwise I'm going to have wasted five years of my life," he said.

Democrats

Durbin, the Senate Minority Whip, is responsible for rounding up Democratic votes for key pieces of legislation. But when it comes to the Gang of Six deficit-reduction plan, Durbin seems to think it's not headed to the floor fast.

"The Gang of Six plan has not been drafted nor has it been scored by the Congressional Budget Office; it's not ready for prime time," he said Tuesday. "But as a concept, I think we have the starting concepts together, and that's what we presented today."

Durbin, 66, suggested that while the gang's framework might not be part of a deal to raise the debt ceiling by Aug. 2, it might still be in play as part of a larger legislative package in the weeks and months ahead.

Democrats

Warner, a former governor, admits the timing of the Gang of Six plan's release stinks, coming days before a hard deadline after months and months of work. Little time for input on the bill, and even less to draft precise language.

But, he says, it demonstrates that at least some members of Congress are willing to come together and take risks for the greater good.

"I've taken the arrows from folks in my party -– I'm a Democrat -– but I've taken the arrows. We've got to reform Medicare. We've got to reform Social Security. We've got to make sure that those programs still exist," Warner told ABC's Jonathan Karl on "Top Line."

"If we don't get this fixed, all of us -– all of us -– ought to get fired," he said.

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