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Good news: The Gang of Six is back

By John Avlon, CNN Contributor
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Re-emergence of Gang of Six is a sign of hope, says John Avlon
  • He says the bipartisan group has a realistic plan to resolve America's debt crisis
  • He says the plan would achieve tax reform and serious spending cuts
  • Avlon: The plan would require Social Security and Medicare reform

Editor's note: John Avlon is a CNN contributor and senior political columnist for Newsweek and The Daily Beast. He is the author of "Wingnuts: How the Lunatic Fringe Is Hijacking America."

New York (CNN) -- There might still be a chance to depolarize the political debate over the debt ceiling and deficit reduction.

That's thanks to the Lazarus-like resurgence of the Gang of Six, a bipartisan group of senators who have been working tirelessly to come up with a balanced plan to restore our nation to fiscal responsibility.

Washington's professional partisans and cynical scribes had written the Gang of Six's efforts off in recent weeks as well-intentioned but ineffectual, especially after Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Oklahoma, took a hiatus from their talks.

But Coburn was back on Tuesday at a presentation of their $3.7 trillion deficit reduction plan to 46 of their fellow senators. Even more impressive was the endorsement the outlines of their plans got from the president of the United States.

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In an unexpected appearance at a White House press briefing, President Obama praised the Gang of Six plan as being "broadly consistent with the approach that I've urged: What it says is we've got to be serious about reducing discretionary spending, both in domestic spending and defense, we've got to be serious about tackling health care spending and entitlements in a serious way, and we've got to have some additional revenue."

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The key overlap between the Gang of Six and the White House is what Obama calls a "balanced approach" where "there is shared sacrifice and everybody is giving up something."

This is, of course, the essence of the "grand bargain" that House Speaker John Boehner and President Obama were working on before getting undercut by Rep. Eric Cantor and those tea party Republicans in the House who claimed that any revenue increases -- even from closing tax loopholes that essentially function as earmarks embedded in the tax code -- would be considered tax hikes and violations of the anti-tax pledge.

The broad details of the Gang of Six plan should hearten anyone whose priority is to reduce the generational theft that is the deficit and the debt. It also offers plenty for tax-cutters to celebrate.

In fact, the plan calls for historic tax reform that would close loopholes while simplifying and reducing rates to stimulate the economy. Under the Gang of Six plan, the top individual rate would be reduced to 29% while the onerous Alternative Minimum Tax would be eliminated and the corporate tax cut to levels competitive with other leading industrialized nations. In total, the plan estimates $1.5 trillion in tax cuts while still raising revenue. The bottom line -- anyone who is serious about tax reform ought to cheer this plan.

There would be additional savings in eliminating duplicative bureaucracies, selling unused federal land and cuts in spending. The Judiciary Committee would be tasked with finding savings through medical malpractice reform.

The Finance Committee would be tasked with Social Security reform as well as reforming Medicare's out of date and expensive "sustainable growth rate formula."

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Not coincidentally, the plan builds on the hard work of the landmark Bowles-Simpson plan, which was presented in December but never brought to a vote. The devil, of course, is in the details and much of the specifics will need to be hammered out in Congress, but it is a clear and serious step in the right direction.

The liberal activist group MoveOn.org announced its pre-emptive opposition while conservative activist groups groused about the plan.

But senators outside the Gang of Six -- Kent Conrad, D-North Dakota; Dick Durbin, D-Illinois; Mark Warner, D-Virginia; Saxby Chambliss, R-Georgia; Mike Crapo, R-Idaho; and Coburn -- were intrigued and there seemed to be a surge of support bordering on relief at the presentation of an actual plan.

Delaware Democrat Sen. Chris Coons said he thought "within 24 hours you will see a significant number of senators publicly support this." Significantly, the third in line in the Republican Senate Leadership, Lamar Alexander, announced that he would back the Gang of Six proposal and help shepherd it through the Senate.

Republican Texas Sen. John Cornyn said, "I think everybody is going to realize nobody is going to get 100% of everything they want."

That idea, of course, is at the heart of a balanced plan: Everybody gives a little bit in an attempt to move the ball forward. This is the essence of reasoning together; a core principle of that seemed to have been forgotten amid Washington's dysfunctional culture of hyper-partisanship. But the fact that the Gang of Six is back in town and presenting specifics is good news. To be sure, the Reid-McConnell Plan B still waits in the wings, and President Obama and Speaker Boehner are entering a new round of negotiations.

But as the tick-tock of the August 2 debt ceiling deadline grows closer, this is some welcome news -- a sign that our deliberative democracy still can function and that a balanced bipartisan plan might still be able to steer our nation toward a stronger fiscal future.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of John Avlon.

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