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McConnell, Reid Reach Out to ‘Gang of Six’

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) met with the bipartisan “gang of six” Friday as they consider whether to include any of the group’s ideas in their own fallback deficit reduction plan.

McConnell and Reid have crafted a Plan B proposal in case President Barack Obama and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) this weekend fail to reach an agreement during negotiations on a deficit reduction plan.

“Everybody wishes and hopes that the negotiations under way between the House and the White House bears fruit,” Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) said after a meeting with the leaders. “But you’ve also got to prepare for what happens if it does not, and that’s what’s happening.”

The leaders met for about 40 minutes Friday with the members of the gang of six, as well as Sens. Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.).

Conrad, a member of the group, said that leaders said they would consider including mechanisms in the Reid-McConnell proposal that would lead to votes on the group’s draft plan later this year — but staff warned there are unlikely to be major changes to the Plan B outline.

Reid and McConnell have been drafting a package that would give President Barack Obama a $2.5 trillion debt limit increase in installments and set up a joint committee charged with crafting a deficit reduction plan. The committee would be empowered to bring bills to the House and Senate floors.

Conrad said among the options raised in the meeting was allowing a vote in the Senate on the group’s proposal alone if a deficit reduction committee deadlocks.

“I think everybody walked out of there feeling good,” Conrad said.

Conrad said taking just an element or two out of the gang of six blueprint — as some have suggested — would not work.

“We’re not interested in having our proposal picked apart piecemeal,” he said. Conrad said the group’s recommendations to the leaders are about “making the whole plan part of the consideration.”

But aides said it is not likely that major portions of the gang of six plan will be included in the fallback proposal.

“The train has already left the station,” one senior Democratic aide said. The most the group can hope for is to get a line included telling the joint committee to consider the gang of six plan, the aide said.

The gang of six has put forward a $3.7 trillion deficit reduction framework that includes a two-step process — a $500 billion down payment immediately and the rest coming six months later in a package that would be crafted by nine committees.

It includes a tax reform package that would lower tax rates and eliminate many deductions and trims to the major entitlement programs, including Social Security.

Conrad said the gang is still finalizing the legislative language of its plan and will be working through the weekend.

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