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US debt crisis: Can a deeply divided 'Gang of Seven' make any progress?

The members of the House and Senate who were appointed to the latest presidential deficit panel represent the starkest partisan views on Capitol Hill. But that could be a good thing.

By Staff writer / April 20, 2011

Senate minority whip Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona has been chosen along with four others to join President Obama and Vice President Biden on the latest presidential deficit panel. The panel will try to set the nation on a new fiscal course, with its first deadline only two months away in June.

Roman Koksarov/AP

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Washington

It took a warning shot from a credit rating agency this week to jumpstart President Obama’s plan for bipartisan, bicameral talks over the nation’s debt crisis, now set to begin May 5.

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A day after Standard and Poor’s slapped a “negative” long-term credit outlook on the US (along with Spain) Republican leaders on Tuesday appointed Senate minority whip Jon Kyl (R) of Arizona and House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia, to join four Democrats and Vice President Joe Biden on the latest presidential deficit panel.

A high-level panel tasked with setting the nation on a new fiscal course would seem to be a step in the right direction as Congress nears a critical vote on raising the national debt ceiling.

However, unlike the bipartisan “Gang of Six” senators who have been trying to reach an agreement on these very same issues, the newly minted “Gang of Seven,” as some commentators are referring to the new negotiators, represents the starkest partisan views on Capitol Hill: The GOP appointees oppose tax increases, the Democrats oppose cuts to entitlements, especially Social Security.

The upside to such a partisan panel is that if they are able to come to terms on a plan, it is likely to be one that could pass mainstream votes in the House and Senate.

“It’s a test run,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “Both parties have their partisans there, and if they can reach an agreement, that agreement might be replicated on the floor of the House and Senate, rather than a panel putting something together that would not stand a chance once it reaches Capitol Hill.”

The GOP appointees join four top Democrats: Senate Finance chair Max Baucus of Montana, Senate Appropriations chair Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, Assistant House Democratic leader James Clyburn of South Carolina, and House Budget chair Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.

Mr. Biden, who brokered a deal with Congress over extending the Bush-era tax cuts, takes on another mission improbable in brokering this effort.

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