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‘Gang of Five’ Floats Deficit Deal

The bipartisan “gang of five” Senators working on a deficit reduction package are close enough to a deal that they are talking to other Senators about it, Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) told reporters Thursday.

Conrad said 18 or 19 Senators attended a meeting of the gang Thursday to discuss the proposal, which he noted is not yet finished. Conrad said the five remaining members of the “gang of six” want other Senators who have been supportive of their efforts to know the status of the negotiations. Earlier this year, 64 Senators signed a letter broadly praising the gang’s efforts.

Either way, the group appears to be closing in on an agreement, having continued negotiating without Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), who left after a dispute over the level of cuts to entitlement programs such as Medicare. Coburn has left open the possibility that he might return to the talks, saying he is merely on a “sabbatical.”

“We’re not waiting” on Coburn, Conrad said, noting that they would happily accept him back to the group.

Conrad declined to go into further detail on the deal or the expected timing. He said he separately has a $5.6 trillion deficit reduction plan for the upcoming decade that would eliminate the deficit. Conrad’s proposal includes $100 billion in stimulus funding for new infrastructure projects. There is new interest in infrastructure proposals with the weak economy, but Conrad didn’t hold out much hope for getting them through the House.

Other members of the gang of five include Republicans Saxby Chambliss (Ga.) and Mike Crapo (Idaho) as well as Democrats Mark Warner (Va.) and Dick Durbin (Ill.), who is also Majority Whip.

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