Obama, key Senators laud 'Gang of Six' plan

Clockwise from top left: President Barack Obama, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Speaker of the House John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are working feverishly to resolve the question of raising the debt-ceiling limit by Aug. 2.

WASHINGTON -- President Barack Obama and a startling number of Republican senators lauded a bipartisan deficit-reduction plan Tuesday that includes $1 trillion in higher taxes, raising hopes of a last-minute compromise to repair the nation's finances while averting a government default.

Obama said he hoped congressional leaders would "start talking turkey" as soon as today along the lines of the Senate "Gang of Six" proposal, which quickly overshadowed a no-tax-increase alternative that conservatives spent Tuesday pushing toward an evening vote in the House.

The "Gang of Six" briefed other senators on the group's plan after a seemingly quixotic quest that took months, drew disdain at times from the leaders of both parties and appeared near failure more than once.

It calls for deficit cuts of slightly less than $4 trillion over a decade and includes steps to slow the growth of Social Security payments, cut at least $500 billion from Medicare, Medicaid and other health programs and wring billions in savings from programs across the face of government.

It envisions tax changes that would reduce existing breaks for a number of popular items while reducing the top income bracket from the current 35 percent to 29 percent or less.

The tax overhaul "must be estimated to provide $1 trillion in additional revenue to meet plan targets," according to a summary that circulated in the Capitol.

The group consists of three Democrats -- Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Mark Warner of Virginia and Dick Durbin of Illinois, a member of the leadership -- and three Republicans, all conservatives, Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia.

In the hours after the Gang of Six briefed other lawmakers on their plan, at least one member of the Republican Senate leadership, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, signed on as a supporter. So did Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison of Texas.

"We have an opportunity to act like statesmen and avoid a debacle on Aug. 2, and it seems to me that all of our efforts should be focused on that," added Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss. He and others said the plan was well-received at a weekly closed-door meeting of GOP senators.

Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C. was harshly critical of the proposal. "If Republicans do not show the political will to stop the spending, and use the debt limit to make our case, the party is gone," he was quoted as saying on National Review Online.

In the House, the focus was on spending cuts.

"Our bloated and obese federal budget needs a healthy and balanced diet, one that trims the fat of overspending and grows the muscle of our nation's economy," said Rep. Reid Ribble of Wisconsin.

Democrats said the measure, with its combination of cuts and spending limits, would inflict damage on millions who rely on Social Security, Medicare and other programs. "The Republicans are trying to repeal the second half of the 20th century," said Rep. Sander Levin, D-Michigan.

Obama has threatened to veto the bill, which would raise the debt limit in exchange for what supporters said was an estimated $6 trillion in spending cuts and congressional approval of a constitutional balanced budget amendment for ratification by the states.