The Gang of Six negotiating how to reduce the deficit is now a gang of five, as Sen. Tom Coburn has quit the talks over a disagreement on overhauling Social Security. "We can’t bridge the gulf of where we need to go on mandatory spending," the Oklahoma Republican said Tuesday, according to The Hill's Alexander Bolton, so there's no point in going on. "There’s no reason to sit and talk about the same things over and over and not get any movement," Coburn said. Of the Democrats in the Senate budget group, he said, "They don’t want to go where I want to go and I don’t want to go where they want to go."
The Gang of Six is was created to find a bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction in order to raise the debt ceiling, and was once considered the best bet for reaching a deal. But now Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a different group is more important: the one led by Vice President Joe Biden, because the White House is involved. Coburn's exit leaves two Republicans--Saxby Chambliss and Mike Crapo--and three Democrats-Kent Conrad, Mark Warner, and Durbin--in the group. Coburn's spokesman later said he was taking a break from the talks, and it's possible they could resume.
Gang member Dick Durbin had said this week would see a "make or break" meeting; Coburn showed up at Tuesday's schedule 2:30 sit-down and briefly told the other senators he was done. Bolton reports that Coburn demanded cuts to Social Security benefits in the deal, while Democrats insisted such reform should be handled apart from deficit reduction. Talking Points Memo's Brian Beutler says another entitlement was the breaking point: "A source with knowledge of the negotiations says Coburn ultimately broke ranks after members of the group rejected his proposal to introduce a global cap on Medicare spending that would have cut $150 billion from current beneficiaries," Beutler writes.