Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., continues his work with the so-called Gang of Six to develop a comprehensive plan to cut the national debt, but he said Wednesday that heâ€™s willing to go solo if the bipartisan group of senators canâ€™t come to an agreement soon enough.
The group has worked for months on crafting a plan to slash the nationâ€™s debt by about $4 trillion over the next decade through a combination of tax reforms and spending cuts.
Theyâ€™re not the only ones developing a debt reduction roadmap. President Barack Obama laid out his long-term spending vision Wednesday during a televised address. And House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan offered a Republican budget last week that called for a $6 trillion cut to the deficit over 10 years.
But Conrad said the groupâ€™s bipartisan status could boost support for their plan, which is based on recommendations by Obamaâ€™s debt commission to shave nearly $4 trillion off the deficit with tax increases, cuts in spending and entitlement reforms.
â€œItâ€™s the only bipartisan plan anyone has produced,â€ he said. â€œI believe at the end of the day, the only thing that has much chance of actually being adopted is something along the lines of the commission plan.â€
The Gang of Six â€” which also includes Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.) â€” Â has agreed to not discuss the status of negotiations.
Conrad said theyâ€™ve made â€œsignificant progressâ€ toward a comprehensive plan over the past four months, but heâ€™s not sure when â€” or if â€” their work will result in a public set of recommendations.
â€œWe operate under a rule: nothingâ€™s agreed to until everythingâ€™s agreed to,â€ he said. â€œEvery time we have some new development that has to be taken into consideration, it obviously slows the effort down.â€
One of those â€œnew developmentsâ€ was Obamaâ€™s speech, which some political analysts said could bring a partisan tone to the deficit reduction discussion and push Republicans away from supporting an eventual Gang of Six proposal.
But Conrad said he was â€œvery encouragedâ€ by Obamaâ€™s call to cut the national debt by $4 trillion over the next decade â€” the same goal of the presidentâ€™s debt commission that Conrad served on last year.
â€œHe is in large measure endorsing what those of us on the fiscal commission concluded in terms of the size of the package, distribution of the proposal and many of the main elements,â€ he said.
Conrad said he sees Obamaâ€™s speech as a â€œclear indicationâ€ that the effort to cut the debt is gaining traction in Washington. Another sign, he said, was a recent letter to the president signed by 64 senators that expressed support for many of the commissionâ€™s recommendations.
â€œOur group of six has been negotiating for months, trying to put meat on the bones and trying to come to a conclusion around a plan that could now be enacted,â€ he said. â€œNow with the presidentâ€™s speech, I think there is clearly momentum behind trying to reduce the debt by $4 trillion.â€
Conrad announced in January that he wonâ€™t seek re-election to the Senate in 2012, saying at the time that he wanted to drum up support to significantly cut the federal debt and deficit rather than focus on another campaign for the office heâ€™s held since 1986.
He said heâ€™d prefer to finalize a plan with the Gang of Six, calling their fiscal package â€œthe only blueprint that I see thatâ€™s bipartisan and has the best chance of being enacted.â€
But heâ€™s willing to move ahead on his own as early as next month if the group isnâ€™t ready to unveil its recommendations. Conrad, the chairman of the Senate Budget Committee, said heâ€™s already been verbally â€œattackedâ€ on the Senate floor for the delays so far and said heâ€™ll soon need to present a budget resolution.
â€œIâ€™ve not because I wanted to give every chance to the bipartisan effort to succeed. But at some point in the near future, Iâ€™m going to have to proceed because timeâ€™s running out.â€