Who knows what's really going on with Tom Coburn's departure from the Gang of Six. For all we know he's about to be indicted in the Ensign scandal. But the reports sound right to me. Basically, he's demanding that the Democrats agree to immediately slash Medicare spending in what I assume to be an exchange for some elimination of "tax expenditures." (At least that's what's been reported as the source of his disagreement with Norquist who's calling all such eliminations tax hikes.)
The aide said that Coburn had been extremely close to agreeing to a deal before a recent two-week recess, but returned with five new demands that hadn't been discussed before. On Monday, the aide said, Coburn asked for an immediate $130 billion in cuts to Medicare, on top of the $400 billion that had already been agreed to. Democrats refused and Coburn left the talks as a result, said the aide.
A Republican aide close to the talks said that Coburn's additional Medicare demand stemmed from the program's trustee's report, which was issued Monday morning and showed it running out of money by 2024, five years sooner than had previously been forecast. But he said that characterizing the demands as new missed the point of the talks, which explicitly put everything on the table.
Call me a skeptic, but that doesn't scan for me. Something else happened to make him (or them) decide to deep six the gang. This is a poison pill not a serious proposal.
Who knows why he really dropped out? The article does give at least one hint:
Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) -- one of the six members -- announced he'd start moving ahead with his own proposal. Conrad said Tuesday he'd announce plans to proceed soon.
Coburn's departure could all-but deep-six the Six, since Conrad's budget plan could overtake it. And Vice President Biden also has been leading bipartisan talks aimed at conquering the deficit impasse, talks that Senate Republican leaders think are more likely to lead to Democratic concessions, said a Democratic aide close to the talks.
(Gee, I wonder where they'd get that idea?)
Coburn may have realized that he was about to go out on a limb with what Norquist will call a tax increase when the Biden group would probably get Republicans a lot more for a lot less. Why take that kind of risk?
Andrea Mitchell wondered earlier if the Gang would release some sort of report that would form a baseline for other negotiations. (Sound familiar?) If so, this would have to be somewhat alarming:
Coburn asked for an immediate $130 billion in cuts to Medicare, on top of the $400 billion that had already been agreed to.
Good to know.
Here's a little reminder, which I'm sure is unnecessary, about the campaign the Republicans ran just six months ago:
It is truly a sick and dysfunctional political system that allows a party to run on that message and just six months later insist on even more cuts and nobody calls them on it. But that's where we are.
The Republicans still insist that they want to repeal the ACA which made "half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts" and are now trying to make another half a trillion dollars in Medicare cuts. I'm guessing the bipartisan hope among the deal-makers was to cut just shy of a trillion dollars total from the program. (You'll recall how they arbitrarily insisted on 900 billion in the stimulus debate --- perhaps this is the magic number here as well.) But they have to "jump over the cliff together" in order to get it done. Maybe they think Biden has the clout to make that happen.
The Democrats will pay the political price for doing this, however, since their only real rationale for existence at this point is protecting the safety net from the rapacious Randroid Republican vision. Republicans are just being Republicans, doing what's expected. Many people will actually admire them more for sticking with their principles. I guess the Democrats think they'll get credit for making the hard decisions and demanding sacrifice from their own constituents.