Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2011 | 2 a.m.
Think you can do a better job coming up with a bipartisan way to reduce the deficit and the debt than Sen. Harry Reid? He dares you to do it.
Reid made it clear Tuesday that he’s losing patience with the members of the self-dubbed Gang of Six — three U.S. Senate Republicans and three U.S. Senate Democrats who were working earlier this year to come up with a way to cut the national debt, and have recently regrouped to continue their discussions.
But until they come up with a fully vetted bill, Reid’s got no use for their helping hand — and says he’s “stunned” people are taking them seriously.
“If someone has a proposal about reducing the deficit and debt, here’s my suggestion: Put it in bill form, in writing. Not all these happy statements about what people think can be done,” he said.
It’s not the first time Reid has bristled at the ad hoc sextet headed up by Sen. Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat who’s departing Congress at the end of next year. (His seat is in play, but it’s going to be tough for Democrats to keep it.)
Reid’s remarks were the most hostile yet toward nonleadership-driven efforts to step in and presume to rescue Congress — or in this case, the U.S. Senate — from crippling partisan division.
The timing could seem strange, given that Reid spent the past few months touting the ad hoc group of 12 lawmakers that were supposed to come up with a $1.2 trillion debt reduction plan before Thanksgiving. Their failure to do so didn’t sour him on the idea of using a similar supercommittee in the future, he said. But there’s a difference: that committee was Reid’s idea, made up of Reid appointees and lawmakers appointed by other congressional leaders. So while the supercommittee was a group of negotiators, it was also a group of proxies for the party leaders. Maybe not a recipe for success, but at least a recipe for no big surprises.
The Gang of Six, however, is less centrally controlled: Reid had no hand in its creation, and even though his deputy, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, is part of the group, it clearly isn’t giving the majority leader any more faith in their process.
Reid indicated he had difficulty, for example, fathoming how to trust a group that includes among its ranks three Republicans — Sens. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, and Saxby Chambliss of Georgia — who just before Thanksgiving, signed onto a nearly partywide letter refusing to vote for any new taxes.
“Put it in bill form and have it scored, bring it to me, and I’ll take a look at it,” Reid said. “Other than that, it’s just happy talk.”