And then there were five

Sen. Tom Coburn has left the Gang of Six because its talks were at an 'impasse.' Where does this leave a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction?

Jonathan Ernst / Reuters
Ranking member Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) listens to testimony during a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing titled "Protecting Mobile Privacy: Your Smartphones, Tablets, Cell Phones and Your Privacy" on Capitol Hill in Washington May 10, 2011. Sen. Coburn recently left the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of senators, because, he says, talks were at an "impasse."

This is not good news for bringing the Republicans around to the idea of reducing tax expenditures as part of a bipartisan agreement on deficit reduction. As David Rogers reports on Politico:

The Gang of Six is now the Gang of Five, as Sen. Tom Coburn made a quick departure from Tuesday afternoon’s meeting of the bipartisan Senate budget group struggling for months to reach agreement on a long range deficit reduction plan.

“We’re still talking, still trying. This is not easy stuff,” Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told POLITICO after the meeting concluded about 45 minutes later. Asked about Coburn, Conrad had no comment, but the Republican later confirmed to reporters that he is dropping out of the effort.

The talks are at an “impasse” [said?] Coburn, but allowed that the remaining senators “may continue to meet without me.”

Why drop out today? He seems to have suddenly taken a turn toward the “glass half empty” view. More from the Politico story (emphasis added):

“We’re at an impasse – there’s no reason to talk about the same things over and over and not getting any movement,” Coburn told reporters later. “It’s just a recognition that we can’t get there.”

“My hope is that we can bridge that but right now I don’t think we can,” he said, indicating that he remains frustrated that the emerging plan still does not go far enough to slowing spending on major government benefit and entitlement programs. “It’s got to be balanced.”

“I’m not planning on participating at this time, if things change I will.”

I am wondering if he was referring to the “tax entitlement” programs and not just the entitlements on the direct spending side. No doubt each side will interpret his complaint about lack of “balance” the way they each want to. And they will stay in their trenches. It’s really too bad.

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