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. bvilleyellowdog

    Anything he would agree to would be bad for the country. Good rid.
    O yes – resign!

    May 17, 2011 07:43 pm at 7:43 pm |
  2. RepublicansFallingApart

    And the house of cards starts to tumble down. If the Republicans last until the 2012 election, it will be a friggin' miracle, let alone establish a single viable candidate that's worthy of attempting to take Obama's job. Obama is no angle, but the man is a miracle compared to the hord of idiots from the Republican crew of motley fools and closet criminals. Geeezzz!

    May 17, 2011 07:47 pm at 7:47 pm |
  3. Aaron

    What happened? The Dems in the gang must have refused to tow the GOP line of cutting taxes for the rich and corporations to reduce the deficit, thus preventing the fictional glorious trickle down to the peasant class.

    May 17, 2011 07:52 pm at 7:52 pm |
  4. David, CA

    This scumbag should be under investigation.

    May 17, 2011 07:55 pm at 7:55 pm |
  5. Miriam

    This guy is running scared. He is so deeply involved in the Ensign stuff. He should be brought up charges of obstruction. The guys that lived in that home where they were supposed to believe and live the family value, clean living life were just breakig laws and doing whatever they wanted. What a bunch of hypocrites. Ensign needs to pay for what he did. What an evil person who destroyed lives because of his ego.

    May 17, 2011 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  6. Mark

    So, when things get tough give up. Great work Senator. Earn your pay and get back in the game.

    May 17, 2011 07:56 pm at 7:56 pm |
  7. CedarRapids

    'With no alcolades to the Navy Seals'
    Yeah, apart from all the times he mentioned them of course, but apart from that no acolades, lol.

    May 17, 2011 07:57 pm at 7:57 pm |
  8. former Texas republican

    And he wants the Government to stay out of Oklahoma affairs, not realisiing that Okahoma is the second largest receiver of Federal agricutural subsidies. That and his envolvement with the Sen. Ensign affair would seem to undermine his pretention of piety. How does he defend these positions to the people who elected him?

    May 17, 2011 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  9. Republican Robber Baron

    Not really convinced the "Gang of 6" was the solution regardless. I think there are too many conflicts of interest and loyalties to their Big $ Lobbyist masters vs loyalty to the "people". We should bring in someone from the outside the Senate. I have very little confidence in the Senate as they are stuck in the past and in their old bad habits with the Big $ Lobbies.

    May 17, 2011 07:58 pm at 7:58 pm |
  10. Ziggy

    Coburn is also the guy who wants to cut out government employee pensions all together. Way to attack the low hanging fruit. Federal employee compensation and benefits are not the problem, its entitlements and the tax system.

    May 17, 2011 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  11. Regis990

    As an Oklahoman, I apologize for this sorry excuse for a Senator.

    May 17, 2011 07:59 pm at 7:59 pm |
  12. truth

    No one has been able to explain to me why young men and women serve in the U.S. Military for 20 years, risking their lives protecting freedom, and only get 50% of their pay in retirement. While Politicians hold their political positions in the safe confines of the capital, protected by these same men and women, and receive full pay retirement after serving one term. It just does not make any sense.

    May 17, 2011 08:02 pm at 8:02 pm |
  13. dude

    I'm w/ "A Kickin' Donkey":

    "Man Up and earn your paycheck Senator!"

    May 17, 2011 08:04 pm at 8:04 pm |
  14. Shawn from GA

    Anything that Saxby Chambliss is a part of is destined to fail.

    May 17, 2011 08:05 pm at 8:05 pm |
  15. A disgusted former Republican

    The gan of 6 was just another republican ploy to show they were trying to work with Democrats when they had no intention of coming to an agreement or a bipartisan plan to put forward. The republicans think they are the party in power. Their only goal is to try to bring the Obama administration down. What a bunch of traitors!!!

    May 17, 2011 08:09 pm at 8:09 pm |
  16. mboma

    Enough of the name-calling guys and gals. Dear senator, please go back to work for your country. Your country needs your help in saving future generations.

    May 17, 2011 08:17 pm at 8:17 pm |
  17. Virginia

    I'm from Oklahoma and we wish he would pull out of of the Senate as well as Oklahoma! Most (rational – not Bible Beating) Oklahoman's wish he, along with Jim Inhofe, would just disappear!

    May 17, 2011 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  18. Eric

    How is this man a quitter or someone unwilling to compromise? He agreed to $1 trillion in tax increases! I think some people need to get their head of the sand and realize you are NOT going to tackle the deficit by focusing only on taxing the rich and cutting defense. It ain't gonna happen and is not possible. The Democrats are going to have to get real and actually CONSIDER cutting Medicare or Social Security a little bit.

    May 17, 2011 08:32 pm at 8:32 pm |
  19. LouAz

    Can't serve two masters . . . Wall Street and right to lifers. Cobern's quitting has nothing to do with the economy.

    May 17, 2011 08:34 pm at 8:34 pm |
  20. Louis

    If you are a republican the motto stands: When the going gets tough....QUIT.
    If there's a problem to be solved: Wait for someone else to solve it
    If there's work to be done, let someone else do it.

    A bunch of useless do-nothings is all the republicans have to offer this nation, as Coburn illustrates to the fullest.

    May 17, 2011 08:38 pm at 8:38 pm |
  21. Andy

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

    The goal of this group should be that we not have a deficit; that we have a government that lives within its means. It is absolutely ridiculous that these politicians are down to arguing over how much money they will spend beyond what they collect, instead of debating whether they should be doing that at all. You cannot continually spend more than you get in revenue, for all eternity, unless you simultaneously devalue the currency at a greater rate than that – an indirect but very real form of taxation.

    These people don't seem to even grasp that concept, that we ARE taxing the level of our spending. It is simply a matter of whether the tax is directly imposed, through the income tax, etc, or whether it is indirectly imposed via borrowing and money printing.

    May 17, 2011 08:39 pm at 8:39 pm |
  22. thomas

    Ensign / Coburn 2012

    May 17, 2011 08:40 pm at 8:40 pm |
  23. Rich

    Taking advice on balancing the budget from Republicans is a lot like taking investment advice from Bernie Madoff.

    May 17, 2011 08:42 pm at 8:42 pm |
  24. JimboK

    Please, Mr. Coburn, "...hit your head against the wall until you break your head..." ! America would be better for it...

    May 17, 2011 08:45 pm at 8:45 pm |
  25. mgor

    I strongly agree with other postings showing that Coburn wants to keep a very low profile after the Ensign situation. He was knowledgeable the whole time about Ensign's affair and giving Ensign advice, all the while BOTH of them insisted on Family Values. Coburn was one of the Co-Sponsors of the Defense of Marriage Act – can you hear and spell HYPOCRISY???

    May 17, 2011 08:48 pm at 8:48 pm |
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