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Bicameral ‘Go Big’ Group Meets to Discuss Options

A bipartisan, bicameral coalition of lawmakers is hoping to resuscitate its quixotic push for a multitrillion-dollar solution to the nation’s deficit and debt problem.

In the wake of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction’s failure last week, members of the “go big coalition” met for more than an hour today in the Capitol to discuss how to move forward in crafting a $4 trillion to $6 trillion deficit reduction package. The group did not have a legislative proposal to discuss but simply weighed whether to work on one that Congress could take up early next year.

Among the lawmakers attending today’s meeting were Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.), as well as Reps. Michael Grimm (R-N.Y.), Peter Welch (D-Vt.), Mike Simpson (R-Idaho), Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio), Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), Heath Shuler (D-N.C.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.).

“We don’t know yet,” Simpson said after leaving the meeting. “What we do know is that the problem is not going away and it’s still got to be solved, and the problem is going to get worse the longer it goes on. So we’re trying to find a way forward where we can get a plan before Congress to address the big problem. Not the $1.2 trillion, the $4 [trillion] to $6 trillion.”

The Idaho Republican was a leading force behind the bipartisan push for the super committee to negotiate a broader deficit reduction package. He helped get more than 100 House Members to sign on to a letter calling on the 12-member panel to broker a deal beyond its $1.2 trillion statutory goal, and despite the super committee’s failure, Simpson said there is interest among some lawmakers to keep pushing.

“The problem isn’t going away. We’ve got to have both an internal education program as well as an external one with the public about the seriousness of the problem,” Simpson said.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, attended today’s meeting. MacGuineas has been a force behind the scenes all year on bipartisan talks to trim the deficit and was a central player in the discussions of the Senate’s “gang of six.” Members of that bipartisan group met for dinner Monday night in Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin’s (D-Ill.) office to discuss how to move forward now that the super committee’s efforts have stopped, although, like today’s meeting, it was informal.

Johanns, who is not an original member of the group but has nevertheless joined it, said both meetings gave him hope.

“I guess the encouraging thing for me, not that I can walk out and say, ‘Oh, here are the five things that were agreed upon,’ is that the House and Senate continue to meet, Republicans and Democrats continue to meet,” the Nebraska Republican said. “My hope is that eventually we’ll agree upon a package of proposals that move. But it’s not there yet.”

Those comments are similar to words uttered by gang of six members leading up to its July release of a $3.7 trillion deficit reduction package. Capitol observers criticized the group for coming out with a deal too late to affect the summer’s contentious debt limit discussions, and Congressional leaders have kept their ideas at arms length. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) challenged the group Tuesday, saying, “If someone has a proposal about reducing the deficit, the debt, here is my suggestion: Put it in bill form, in writing — not all these happy statements on what people think can be done.”

Simpson acknowledged that for the broader House-Senate coalition to make any progress, they will need a buy-in from leadership and to put something in bill form that could be considered early next year — just as Members really get into election mode. The challenges, Simpson noted, are significant.

“I know leadership wants to solve this problem. If they’ve got a better way to solve it, I’m more than willing to listen,” he said. “But right now, this is the only thing moving forward.”

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