Coburn pulls out of Gang of Six, dealing blow to deficit talks
May 17th, 2011
05:11 PM ET
10 years ago

Coburn pulls out of Gang of Six, dealing blow to deficit talks

Washington (CNN) – Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, is pulling out of so-called "Gang of Six" bipartisan negotiations for now – dealing a potentially fatal blow to the group that has been working intensely for some five months to find agreement on a deficit reduction plan.

Coburn believes the group has reached an "impasse."

"When you're at an impasse the worst thing you can do is keep trying to hit your head against the wall until you break your head," Coburn said. "I'm just going to give it a rest for a while and see. They all worked in good faith, every one of them and so it's not a matter of bad faith, it's a matter of being a realist about what you can accomplish and what you can't.”

Coburn said he is taking a break from the talks and "not attending right now," but insists he still considers himself a member of the Gang of Six.

But the reality is that the success of any deal the group would come up with depends largely on having support from someone like Coburn, with strong bona fides among conservatives.

Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia, another conservative member of the bipartisan group, acknowledged Coburn's withdrawal will kill their efforts in the short-term.

When reporters asked Chambliss if there could be agreement without Coburn, he replied, "no."

"I would hope that eventually we'll still, as a group of six, be able to come together on some long-term resolution of the issue but looks like it's not going to happen short-term," conceded Chambliss, who said they will get together Wednesday to see where they are.

The goal of the group, which has been meeting regularly since January, is to cut $4 trillion from the deficit over 10 years.

Coburn said the main reason he believes the talks are stalled is because of differences over how to rein in costly entitlement programs.

"If we don't address those issues, you haven't fixed the problem," Coburn said.

Senators and aides involved in these negotiations are very secretive about the details of their discussions, but two Democratic sources familiar with the talks told CNN that Coburn proposed cutting an additional $130 billion from the Medicare program over the $400 billion the president's deficit commission proposed.

The Democratic sources say Democratic negotiators rejected Coburn's idea, and suggested that's what drove Coburn's decision to step away from the talks.

A Republican source familiar with the negotiations insisted to CNN Coburn did not make that specific proposal, but did say he was frustrated that Democrats were not giving more on cutting Medicare spending.

The source told CNN that Coburn had actually tentatively agreed to about $1 trillion in revenue raisers – meaning tax increases – anathema to most Republicans.

Coburn said he told Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Illinois, a Democratic member of the group, Tuesday morning, that he felt they had reached an impasse and would stop attending meetings.

"Look, we've been doing this a long time and we have a lot of things agreed to, a lot of pain for both parties but its got to be something that I think that will actually make some significant differences and we're just not there to what I think I can sell," Coburn said.

Earlier Tuesday, the third Republican member of the group – Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, told CNN he thought it was too early to tell if they would find consensus on a deficit reduction plan, calling it a "roller coaster."

But he was not nearly as pessimistic as Coburn.

"We're in some intense negotiations right now, but we're also at a point where things could come together," Crapo said.

Some of the wind was taken out of the group's sails after the deficit reduction talks shifted to a group led by Vice President Joe Biden, but senators continued to meet regularly.

Democratic senators in the group are Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Sen. Kent Conrad of North Dakota and Sen. Mark Warner of Virginia.

Warner vowed to keep working.

"Our fiscal challenges are too great to stop working toward a comprehensive, bipartisan solution. I intend to keep working in good faith on these issues because we have made too much progress to stop now," Warner said.

NOTE: A Democratic bill to end oil subsidies is defeated in the Senate Tuesday.

Filed under: Congress • Deficit • Senate • Tom Coburn
soundoff (77 Responses)
  1. Fedupwithrepubs

    All of these so called negotiations should be done in PUBLIC so we can SEE who is and isn't reasonable.

    May 17, 2011 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  2. LiberaNewz2

    Get your bony old butt back in there senator and DO YOUR JOB

    May 17, 2011 06:22 pm at 6:22 pm |
  3. llmb


    May 17, 2011 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  4. Claudia, Houston, Tx

    Colburn is pulling out because the "house of cards" are folding on him aka as the Ensign scandal that he was complicit in with the charges of conspiracy.

    May 17, 2011 06:23 pm at 6:23 pm |
  5. John/kc

    The rich in the republican party have many more assets to lose if the country goes belly up than the rest of us. If the republicans won't raise taxes or cut defense outlays, then lack of compromise is on their heads. If the country is forced into bankruptcy, then our money will be worthless. Talk about crime in the streets, you ain't seen nothing yet!

    May 17, 2011 06:27 pm at 6:27 pm |
  6. Chad

    Well, duh. When one side in the negotations refuses to compromise on anything, bases its arguments on fear and demagougery, and out-right rejects science or any sort of detail analyses, how on earth can one expect to bridge the divide between them and the sane?

    May 17, 2011 06:30 pm at 6:30 pm |
  7. John from FL

    Decided to take a break? WHAT? How absolutly pathetic. I should tell my boss that I need a break and see if I get to keep my job.

    May 17, 2011 06:32 pm at 6:32 pm |
  8. dave

    DO YOUR JOB Senator !!

    May 17, 2011 06:33 pm at 6:33 pm |
  9. keylargo

    Coburn is likely the main cause of the impasse. Plus, he's going to be spending lots of time with his lawyers trying to dodge the Ensign scandal.

    May 17, 2011 06:35 pm at 6:35 pm |
  10. Jason, Chicago IL

    Well of course there's an impasse. One side is trying to determine the proper balance of program cuts and tax increases, and the other side is merely trying to determine the proper balance of program cuts.

    If you cannot even entertain the discussion of some tax increases after a decade of foolish tax cuts helped create this mess, then what credibility can you possibly have in the discussion?

    May 17, 2011 06:37 pm at 6:37 pm |
  11. Jim

    Honesty in the budget process is in pretty short supply in DC right now. First we had a Democrat controlled congress and White House who were unable to even gives a 2011 budget until well after the 2010 election. After that our president gives us a new budget that is so short on specifics that is only referred to as a "starting point". Much easier to stand back and wait for the Republicans to make a serious proposal so they can ride the good ole SS issue to victory in the next election. I think the gang of 6 had hopes that they could overcome the politics but all eyes right now, as usual, are apparently on the next election. Unfortunately it is all just a reflection of a country that wants everything but just dosent understand how broke this country really is.

    May 17, 2011 06:40 pm at 6:40 pm |
  12. Larry

    Although the budget is an important looming problem that does need to be addressed, the economy is vitally more important during this recession. If the economy does not come back to booming then the budget will not balance no matter what happens. The need to increase the debt ceiling and do it now. This is NOT the time or the place to balance the budget. If you cut Social Security and Medicare then do you cut those taxes also? If you do then there is no net effect to the budget. If you do not cut those taxes then you have actually increased taxes to the working poor and middle class as they will be paying for something that they cannot ever collect. And the rich will benefit again. Poor Republican plan. Is this where you are wanting to go, more taxes for the masses?

    May 17, 2011 06:42 pm at 6:42 pm |
  13. mfhpr

    I used to like this guy, for a REP. He seemed to make sense and not play games. I would bet anything it DOES have to do with the Ensign mess, as many have suggested. Hopefully, he's on his way out. Wouldn't bet on it, though. Most of these "law makers" are the best law breakers and get away with just about anything...

    May 17, 2011 06:44 pm at 6:44 pm |
  14. Proud member of "Global Zero"

    He will be too busy in Ensigns trial. It seems he was one of the go between's finalizing the money deal with Ensign and his lover. Really sad what goes on in the congress. I hope they all get the boot. No more retirement money for these people on the backs of the tax payer.

    May 17, 2011 06:52 pm at 6:52 pm |
  15. Ron

    What's the matter? Someone told him they would expose his dealings with Ensign?? This guy's a joke. He couldn't broker a solid deal with Ensign either.

    May 17, 2011 06:54 pm at 6:54 pm |
  16. Russ

    Is this guy related to Palin? A quitter!!

    May 17, 2011 06:58 pm at 6:58 pm |
  17. Jim

    Because when the going gets tough, the right starts quitting.

    May 17, 2011 07:02 pm at 7:02 pm |
  18. MANI

    This was to be expected. This has nothing to do with the deficit talks. It has more to do with a deficit of character. With Senetor Ensign's ethics probe being referred to the Justice dept., his enabling buddy Coburn sees trouble coming his way and wants to find a place to hide. But Justice will find him.

    May 17, 2011 07:03 pm at 7:03 pm |
  19. Kristy

    coburn is guilty as Ensign for his "quiet" involvement in this shameful affair...such evil doing and then attempting to help his buddy cover it up....even allowing Ensign's father and mother to be involved....there is absolutely no shame in these "truth seekers" Colburn should also resign.....I'm sure his leaving the gang of 6 is to stay out of the limelight!

    May 17, 2011 07:05 pm at 7:05 pm |
  20. Rob in MO

    Let's start with eliminating the obscene welfare for the oil companies. That should be a no-brainer for the Gang of 6 (or 5).

    May 17, 2011 07:08 pm at 7:08 pm |
  21. egm11

    from all i have seen and heard in the last two years, we as a nation are screwed. we have a president hell bent on ruining the nation most of us grew up with and has enough allies in the senate to do it. we have enough cowards in elected office on both sides, too afraid of losing their power that they will sacrifice the entire nation to stay in power. good bye to the nation we once were, we just need to look to greece or spain as to what we are to become. we elected absoulte cowards to run and ruin this nation. it is our fault for keeping in office long enough to do it.

    May 17, 2011 07:09 pm at 7:09 pm |
  22. Acaraho

    Is it just me or did anyone else crack a smile when they mentioned a Republican senator named Crapo?

    May 17, 2011 07:20 pm at 7:20 pm |
  23. Moby Detroit, MI

    His complicity and subsequent deal for immunity on the Ensign situation is about to become public? Just a guess.

    May 17, 2011 07:21 pm at 7:21 pm |
  24. Walter

    "Another Teapublican palinquitter. When the going gets tough, these folks head for the hills".

    This kind of vitriol serves no purpose other than showing the lack of class of the poster.

    May 17, 2011 07:22 pm at 7:22 pm |
  25. bfred

    To those of you complaining about the Bush tax cuts, federal collections went up substantially every year afterwards until the economic collapse in 2008. Our deficit has never been a revenue issue – it's a spending issue. And in case you missed the news, confiscating 100% of the income from all people earning more than $100,000 would not generate enough revenue to close the deficit. Nevermind a 4.8% increase on those making $250,000-plus. It's a cynical distraction from the central point that the only way to narrow or eliminate the deficit is to reduce spending.

    May 17, 2011 07:37 pm at 7:37 pm |
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