The dozen members of the deficit reduction panel known as the supercommittee remain deadlocked. They must agree on a plan by Wednesday to slice more than a trillion dollars from projected deficits, or that money will be cut automatically from future budgets.
Supercommittee co-chairman Jeb Hensarling has long opposed new taxes. And yet, the Texas House Republican a couple of days ago on CNBC endorsed the revenue-raising bid that fellow GOP supercommittee member Senator Pat Toomey made last week.
“We put $250 billion of what is known as static revenue on the table, but only if we can bring down rates,” Hensarling says.
Democrats dismiss the offer, saying it’s mainly about lowering tax rates for wealthy people and corporations. But Senate Budget Committee chairman Kent Conrad says he is encouraged that Republicans are finally talking about doing something besides simply cutting spending.
“They’ve crossed the line on saying in some way you need additional revenue,” Conrad says. “But when you go to the details of what they’ve proposed, there’s no new revenue.”
Some of the top Republicans in Congress have rallied behind Senator Toomey’s revenue-raising offer. One of them is House Speaker John Boehner, who showed a willingness himself during the debt ceiling debate to boost tax revenues.
“The offer that the republicans put on the table is a fair offer,” Boehner says. “Toomey, something like Toomey.”
However, Grover Norquist, who heads the anti-tax advocacy group Americans for Tax Reform, dismisses Toomey’s revenue raising proposal as meaningless and says, “it’s a unicorn”.
“It does not exist in the real world,” Norquist says. “Comments on how pretty the unicorn is are people playing with their imaginations.”
Still, for Lamar Alexander, the Senate’s number three Republican, Toomey’s tax proposal is a very real game-changer.
“Republicans have put revenues on the table,” Alexander says. “Anyone who knows and understands the Republican party knows that the proposal that was made last week by the Republican members of the supercommittee represents a substantial departure from what we’d normally be comfortable voting for.”
GOP senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina says that was a big deal and “a change in the political dynamic”.
Like virtually every other Republican on Capitol Hill, Graham once signed a pledge with Grover Norquist’s anti-tax group not to raise taxes. And like a growing number of his GOP colleagues, Graham says he no longer feels bound by that pledge.
“I think it’s OK to use deduction, exemption revenue to pay down debt as well as to lower rates,” Graham says. “I think that’s in our national interest.”
For Norquist, Graham’s apostasy on taxes amounts to betrayal.
“His commitment was not to me, it was to the people of South Carolina,” Norquist says. “And if he wants to go to the people of South Carolina and say ‘I lied my way into office, thought I’d let you know’, he can do so.”
The move by supercommittee Republicans to raise new tax revenues has not sat well with fellow party members with ties to the Tea Party, including South Carolina’s senator, Jim DeMint.
“I’m very concerned,” DeMint says. “I think we’re being drawn into this quagmire here of accepting the idea that the problems we’re having with debt have something to do with not taking enough taxes from people.”
House Republican Steve King of Iowa doubts he would vote for any debt reduction deal that included new revenues.
“It’s unlikely that i would do that, because, I’m like the majority of Republicans in here,” King says. “I don’t believe that we should be raising taxes, I think spending is our problem.”
Claremont McKenna College political scientist Jack Pitney says while some Republicans want a supercommittee deal badly enough to consider new revenues, others fear the wrath of voters.
“So even if Norquist weren’t involved in this, you’d still have a lot of people voting in primaries who are very averse to any kind of concession on the revenue front,” Pitney says.
And for many in Congress, your number one job is to keep your job.