Reid's typically skeptical that ad hoc groups negotiating broad legislative bargains can reach accord or create good policy. And though he's encouraged the group and would consider its suggestions if it produced an agreement, he's also sitting on a Senate-passed bill in his hip pocket that would allow the Bush tax cuts to expire for top earners -- legislation that requires no concessions from Democrats.
That's trouble for the so-called Gang of Eight -- the four Republicans and four Democrats who have been trying essentially to turn Simpson-Bowles' deficit recommendations into legislation.
The full group -- comprised of Sens. Tom Coburn (R-OK), Saxby Chambliss (R-GA), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Mike Johanns (R-NE), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Kent Conrad (D-ND), Mark Warner (D-VA), and Michael Bennet (D-CO) -- met in person Wednesday in Mt. Vernon, Va., to continue their discussions.
One Gang of Eight source acknowledged that the members remain divided on nearly all key issues -- including taxes, entitlement programs, and legislative process issues.
"[T]hey're frankly not making much progress, certainly won't have an agreement when today's meeting is over," the source said. "I'd put the odds at 50-50 that they ever reach an agreement [and] I can tell you with near certainty that there's not gonna be any agreement before the election."
The Obama administration, which has also typically premised negotiations on increasing top-bracket tax rates and plying additional revenues from high-income earners, gave Schumer its blessing Wednesday. White House press secretary Jay Carney:
"Senator Schumer is making is a very important point -- that the wealthiest must pay their fair share in any balanced approach to reducing our deficit in a way that protects the middle class, seniors, and our ability to invest in education and innovation," Carney said. "He's making the very clear point that the President has made and others have made, that it is fanciful thinking to imagine that you can give more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires and that the pixie dust of trickle-down economics will somehow erase any damage to the deficit or hold harmless the middle class."