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What Is the Gang of Six?

The Gang of Six refers to a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators who united in 2011 to tackle America's deficit crisis. Their collaborative effort aimed to transcend political divides, offering a balanced approach to fiscal reform. As we explore their impact, consider how such coalitions could shape future policy – what might collaboration in today's Congress achieve?
Mark Wollacott
Mark Wollacott

There are two groups called the gang of six. Six senators making bipartisan attempts to solve a crisis or to block or amend a piece of legislation going through the American houses formed both groups. The first group of six in 2009 was formed because of President Barack Obama’s attempt to create legislation regarding healthcare reform. The second group of six was formed in 2011 and attempted to avert the debt-ceiling crisis of that year.

The term “gang of six” has an earlier precursor in American politics. In 2005, during the presidency of George W. Bush, a group of 14 senators formed the “gang of 14” to diffuse a series of confrontations between House Republicans and Democrats. The trouble began with Democrats refusing to approve Bush’s judicial appointments and got worse, when Republicans tried to remove the Senate’s ability to filibuster legislation and appointments. Seven senators from each party agreed on a compromise that allowed most judicial appointments to pass, but also prevented the Republicans from removing the right to filibuster.

Six senators formed the bipartisan gang of six.
Six senators formed the bipartisan gang of six.

China provides the ultimate origin of this term. A gang of x number of people is a term used to describe a situation where a small group of people has power over the whole government and, therefore, the country too. In China, this occurred during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1976 when Jiang Qing, Zhang Chunqiao, Yao Wenyuan, and Wang Hongwan controlled China. They were dubbed the “gang of four” by the Chinese government in 1976 because “four” also represents the word for “death” in Chinese.

Congress has seen the formation of two groups called the Gang of Six, in 2009 and 2011.
Congress has seen the formation of two groups called the Gang of Six, in 2009 and 2011.

The first gang of six was formed in 2009 to deal with President Barack Obama’s healthcare reform plans. All six were members of the senate’s financial committee: Chuck Grassley from Iowa; Mike Enzi from Wyoming; and Olympia Snowe from Maine represented the Republicans. Jeff Bingaman from New Mexico, Max Baucus from Montana, and Kent Conrad from North Dakota represented centrist Democrats. Of the six, only Olympia Snowe was part of the original gang of 14.

Obama instigated the original group as a bipartisan attempt to find common ground on healthcare reform. Broadly speaking, Democrats were in favor of reform, but Republicans were not. The legislation attempted to move American healthcare more in line with the systems of Canada and Western Europe. The gang of six called for delays and amendments to the 2009 legislation and ultimately caused its failure in the Senate.

In 2011, America was approaching an artificial debt ceiling that, if reached, would have prevented the government from borrowing extra money. This would have made it impossible for the government to continue paying staff salaries and to continue paying for federal programs. The Democrat President and the Republican-controlled Senate were unable or unwilling to reach an agreement about debt management and a raising of the debt ceiling to allow the government to borrow more money.

Three republicans and three democrats formed the second gang of six. Kent Conrad again represented the democrats along with Mark Warner from Virginia and Dick Durbin from Illinois. Mike Crapo from Idaho, Saxby Chambliss from Georgia, and Tom Coburn from Oklahoma represented the Republicans. The six senators were able to reach an agreement where the debt ceiling was raised and the government agreed to cut some of its spending.

Frequently Asked Questions

Who are the members of the Gang of Six?

The Gang of Six refers to a bipartisan group of U.S. Senators who worked together in 2011 to formulate a plan to reduce the federal deficit. The members included Democrats Mark Warner, Dick Durbin, and Kent Conrad, alongside Republicans Saxby Chambliss, Mike Crapo, and Tom Coburn. Their collaboration aimed to bridge the partisan divide and address the nation's fiscal challenges through a balanced approach of spending cuts and revenue increases.

What was the main goal of the Gang of Six?

The primary goal of the Gang of Six was to produce a comprehensive plan to reduce the United States' federal deficit by at least $3.7 trillion over the next decade. They sought to achieve this through a mix of spending cuts, entitlement reform, and changes to the tax code that would simplify it and generate additional revenue. Their efforts were in response to the growing concern over the national debt and the need for a sustainable fiscal policy.

How did the Gang of Six influence U.S. fiscal policy?

While the Gang of Six did not directly implement fiscal policy, their work significantly influenced the national conversation on deficit reduction. Their plan served as a framework for bipartisan discussions and was considered during the debt ceiling crisis of 2011. Although their specific proposals were not enacted into law, they set the stage for future bipartisan efforts and highlighted the importance of compromise in addressing fiscal challenges.

Did the Gang of Six's plan have any impact on the U.S. credit rating?

The Gang of Six's plan emerged during a critical time when the U.S. faced the potential of a credit rating downgrade due to the debt ceiling crisis. While the plan itself did not prevent the downgrade by Standard & Poor's from AAA to AA+ in August 2011, it was part of broader efforts to demonstrate that U.S. lawmakers were serious about tackling the deficit. The plan's reception showed that bipartisan solutions were possible, even if it did not directly avert the credit event.

Are there similar groups to the Gang of Six that work on bipartisan issues?

Yes, there have been several similar bipartisan groups in the U.S. Congress that have formed to address various issues. For example, the "Gang of Eight" worked on immigration reform in 2013, and the "Problem Solvers Caucus" is a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives that seeks to find common ground on key issues. These groups exemplify efforts within Congress to work across party lines to find solutions to the nation's most pressing problems.

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    • Six senators formed the bipartisan gang of six.
      By: Dawngo
      Six senators formed the bipartisan gang of six.
    • Congress has seen the formation of two groups called the Gang of Six, in 2009 and 2011.
      By: Zap Ichigo
      Congress has seen the formation of two groups called the Gang of Six, in 2009 and 2011.