Why we need the (well-mannered) Gang of Six

Beyond the potential for political progress, the Gang of Six has something else to offer America and the rest of Capitol Hill: good manners.

Bob Brown / Richmond Times-Dispatch / AP / File
In this March 7, 2011, file photo US Senators Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga, left, and Mark Warner, D-Va., right, speak before the Virginia Chamber of Commerce in Richmond, Va. Above all else, the senators in the Gang of Six are gentlemen, writes guest blogger Diane Lim Rogers.

Some (bipartisan) members of the (nonpartisan) Concord Coalition’s Board of Directors recently issued this statement supporting the efforts and spirit of the Senate’s so-called “Gang of Six”–Senators Saxby Chambliss (R - Ga.), Tom Coburn (R - Okla.), Kent Conrad (D - N.D.), Mark Crapo (R - Ida.), Richard Durbin (D - Ill) and Mark Warner (D - Va.), who have been working together on a bipartisan agreement modeled along the lines of the recommendations of the President’s (Bowles-Simpson) fiscal commission. The Gang of Six seems to be laying low lately, perhaps not wanting to get in the way of the Biden talks, but as our board members stress, there are several reasons why this group of senators is the right way to work toward a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction and why we need them to maintain an active role in this big drama:

The group’s work is important for several reasons:

It addresses a crucial need. There is no question that current fiscal policy is unsustainable and that legislative action is needed to avoid a crisis…

It recognizes that there must be a comprehensive solution. The natural tendency in Washington is to begin deficit-reduction negotiations by taking things off the table. This may please each party’s political base but it makes it all the more difficult to agree on a plan with credible numbers and political viability…

It is bipartisan. Neither party has a monopoly on good ideas, and even if one did, neither party has the votes nor the public trust to muscle through a one-sided solution…

It is unique. Bipartisan cooperation on deficit reduction is in short supply. The budget adopted by the House of Representatives has no support from Democrats and thus no chance of becoming law. Similarly, the President’s budget has no support from Republicans

It could produce a plan for others to rally around. As of now, members of Congress and the public have a choice between partisan plans, which will get us nowhere, and the status quo, which is unsustainable. If the Senate group is able to agree on a plan, it will serve as a beacon for those who wish to support meaningful bipartisan solutions. It would spark a more realistic debate about the inevitable trade-offs that must be confronted and marginalize those who insist that their way is the only way…

To this list, we could add that the Gang of Six act like gentlemen to each other and don’t call each other names–quite the contrast to the behavior of the political leadership, whose trench-warfare style is something that the Washington Post’s David Fahrenthold points out only makes agreement (and let’s not say the seemingly-poisoned word “compromise”) even more unlikely:


That’s the frustrated conclusion that America’s professional negotiators have reached, after watching Washington’s politicians begin their own negotiation over the national debt ceiling.

These professionals are ex-FBI agents, labor mediators, divorce counselors. They have learned the rules that help resolve unsolvable standoffs: Don’t lie to a man on a high ledge. Don’t box yourself in with sweeping threats. Don’t tell your adversary to “act like an adult.”

Now, they have watched the two parties bend or break those three rules. They worry that the politicians’ mistakes might only prolong their dispute — at a moment where every day of delay adds to Wall Street’s worries.

And it bugs them to see their art practiced this way. It’s one thing, negotiators say, to threaten the country with financial calamity if your demands aren’t met.

It’s another thing to do it incorrectly.

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