WASHINGTON, April 19, 2011 -- Senator Dick Durbin, D-Ill., says the bi-partisan group of senators working to find a way to reduce the deficit -- the so-called "Gang of Six" -- is near agreement on a plan that will chart a middle ground between the House Republican budget and the plan outlined last week by President Obama.
And while other top Democrats say Social Security should be untouched, Durbin says Social Security changes should be made now.
"You have the House Republican budget from Congressman Paul Ryan, who I know and like, which is going to be placed somewhere on the right side of the spectrum. You have the president's suggestion, which will be on the other side of the spectrum. And if and when we reach an agreement, it will be in the middle, a bipartisan effort, which I think has a chance to succeed," Durbin said in an interview for ABC News' "Subway Series."
He expects the Gang of Six -- which, in addition to Durbin, includes senators Tom Coburn, R-Okla.; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga.; Mark Warner, D-Va.; and Kent Conrad, D-N.D. -- to agree on a plan shortly after Congress returns from its Easter recess.
"We're very, very close," Durbin said. "And there's a sense of urgency. Our relevance is going to be hooked to our timeliness. If we wait too long, we may not be players. And a lot of people are counting on us to be players."
Durbin criticized a resolution put forward by Sen. Bernie Sanders, a liberal independent from Vermont, that says Social Security should not be cut under a deficit reduction plan. Durbin said he would not vote for such a resolution.
"I think Bernie is going too far with his language," Durbin said.
"In 2037, as we know it, Social Security falls off a cliff," he said. "There's a 22 percent reduction rate in payments, which is really not something we can tolerate. If we deal with it today, it's an easier solution than waiting. I think we ought to deal with it. Many of my colleagues disagree, put it off to another day. But from my point of view, leaving it out makes it easier politically, including it, I think, meets an obligation, which we have to senior citizens."
One specific change Durbin said should be considered right now is reducing Social Security benefits to the wealthy.
Democrats from the president on down have vilified Ryan for releasing a budget that would make deep cuts in domestic spending and fundamentally change the Medicare program, but Durbin actually had kind words for Ryan himself, if not for his budget.
"I respect him," Durbin said. "He's very bright, very hard-working and very thoughtful about his point of view. I disagree with his point of view and I think I certainly would have done things a lot differently, but I respect him and I think that is a good starting point for a political solution. Respect for both sides."
Durbin is the second highest ranking Democrat in the Senate and has long been considered among the most liberal. He says his fellow liberals are slowly coming to realize the severity of the coming budget crisis and the need to dramatically cut the deficit.
"Many of my friends on the left -- they are my friends, these are my roots politically -- are going through the stages of grief: denial, anger, frustration, sadness, resignation," Durbin said. "They are going through those stages because they understand that borrowing 40 cents for every dollar you spend, whether it's for missile or food stamps, is just unsustainable. But you've got to do something."