Reduction in 'Gang of Six' Stirs Budget Discussions

Reduction in 'Gang of Six' Stirs Budget Discussions

Economic debate is pushing energy policy to the back burner.

The so-called Gang of Six met as the Gang of Five after Senator Tom Coburn, R-Okla., stepped aside expressing pessimism over the prospects of reaching a bipartisan deficit reduction agreement. The biggest problem is entitlement spending Senator Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., says he regrets that Coburn has decided it's time to pull out of the talks. Still Chambliss says the group will continue to get together because there are still ideas. But in the end he said,"It's not going to be a proposal by five of us - it's got to be six of us."

As a result of Coburn's departure the debt reduction spotlight now falls squarely on negotiations being brokered by Vice President Joe Biden. The Biden deal appears to be focusing on short-term results. Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., a member of the Biden-led working group, says the talks have the right mix of executive and legislative participants to produce a viable plan. It is believed that if Coburn returns to the Gang of Six - work on the federal deficit would better move forward.

Meanwhile, the attention on debt reduction has moved the focus away from energy policy. Wednesday afternoon the U.S. Senate voted 42 to 57 against S. 953, the Offshore Production and Safety Act of 2011 backed by Senate Republicans. That followed Tuesday evening's vote that blocked S. 940, backed by Democrats, that would close big oil tax loopholes. But the vote on big oil tax breaks may not be dead as Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., predicts closing big oil tax loopholes will become a part of budget negotiations, though that's not the viewpoint of Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.

Still, questions are being asked about comprehensive energy and climate legislation. But like every other aspect of federal operations the question with any energy legislation is what's the budgetary impact? Congress needs to find $4 trillion or more in budgetary savings over the next decade. So cuts in present support programs are likely, and less likely are new support programs.

The convergence of issues also moves lawmakers further away from a real debate over energy policy in its own right. Senator Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, says the greatest travesty for this country is that we don't even have an energy policy.

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