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New ‘Gang of Six’ Vows ‘Balanced’ Deal to Avert Sequester

A new group of six Senators committed Monday to working on a “balanced” package to avert the year-end budget cuts required by sequestration.

Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and ranking member John McCain (R-Ariz.) led the letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

“Failure to act to address the debt would result in sequestration taking effect in January 2013 with significant detrimental impact on our fragile economic recovery,” the Senators wrote. “According to a report done for the Aerospace Industries Association, if sequestration is allowed to occur in January, the nation will lose approximately 1 million jobs because of defense budget cuts and 1 million jobs because of domestic cuts in 2013.”

About $109 billion in spending cuts are looming in 2013 unless the government takes action to change the law that requires the reductions. That figure is expected to include more than $54 billion in cuts on the defense side of the federal ledger.

Democratic Sens. Jeanne Shaheen (N.H.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), and Republican Sens. Lindsey Graham (S.C.) and Kelly Ayotte (N.H.) joined as signatories on the letter, which signaled support for a package that could include reductions on the spending side and increases on the revenue side.

“We are committed to working together to help forge a balanced bipartisan deficit reduction package to avoid damage to our national security, important domestic priorities, and our economy,” the Senators wrote.

It is not insignificant that the group used the “balanced” to describe their goal because that has been the term of choice for Democrats who want to see targeted tax increases as part of any deficit reduction deal. Of course, Republicans have been more open to raising taxes by eliminating certain tax loopholes and deductions rather than changing income tax rates on the wealthy, as Democrats would do.

Now that the Senate has recessed until after the November election, McCain, Graham and Ayotte are resuming their nationwide tour to discuss the effects of sequestration. The trio will visit Colorado Springs, Colo., on Tuesday. The area is the home of both an Army base at Fort Carson and Peterson Air Force Base. Colorado is also considered a swing state in the presidential race.

“We look forward to visiting Colorado Springs to sound the alarm about the profound negative consequences of these cuts to our national security and economy,” Ayotte, Graham and McCain said in a joint statement. “This community – which plays such a critical role in our nation’s defense – will bear the brunt of the defense sequestration cuts. It is a voice that must be heard in Washington.”

In a brief interview last week, Graham reiterated his support for a long-term deficit plan based on the principles outlined by the Simpson-Bowles commission, in which the elimination of credits and deductions within the tax code would be used to help lower marginal tax rates and contribute to balancing the budget.

Levin has said he is confident the sequester will be avoided and that Congress should do more to send signals to federal contractors and the broader economy that both sides will reach an agreement during the lame-duck session. Reid expressed a similar view to reporters last week.

“I’ve been around here awhile. I understand how we come together in times of crisis,” Reid said. “I do not believe that we’re going to go over the fiscal cliff, so I think that the work that needs to be done – everyone knows what needs to be done.”