WASHINGTON – Republican leaders have started laying the groundwork to persuade GOP lawmakers to support a compromise on a tax increase, an issue that has deadlocked a congressional supercommittee pressed to come up with a deficit-reduction plan by next week.
GOP leaders on Tuesday presented to their rank-and-file members a scenario under which Republicans would agree to $250 billion in new tax revenue over the next 10 years, largely by limiting itemized deductions for upper-income households.
In return, Democrats would agree to undertake a revamp of the tax code next year that would at least freeze top income tax brackets and others at their current levels – rather than allow them to rise at the end of 2012, when the President George W. Bush-era tax rates expire.
At least some House Republicans expressed support for the idea after a closed-door briefing from GOP leaders, led by Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the Republican co-chairman of the congressional supercommittee. The 12-member panel has a Nov. 23 deadline to come up with a plan that would reduce federal deficits by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.
The GOP has long opposed new taxes. But the GOP’s incentive to agree to more revenue would be to prevent a $4 trillion tax hike if the income tax rates are allowed to rise as scheduled, Hensarling told Republican lawmakers, according to those familiar with the talk.
“We can stomach that,” said freshman Rep. Allen West, R-Fla. “That gets us toward moving the ball down the field.”
But not all Republicans bought into the pitch, an indication of the uphill climb House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, faces in crafting a deal his conservative conference will support. Talks between Boehner and President Barack Obama broke down this summer over taxes.
Most Republican lawmakers have signed a pledge not to raise taxes, and are fearful of the political fallout from violating that promise.
“I really think in this environment it would be very, very hard to find much support on the Republican side, particularly with the freshman, to raise any taxes,” said freshman Rep. Chuck Fleischmann, R-Tenn. “It’s going to be very hard for members to run away from the pledge.”
Also unclear is whether Democrats would accept $250 billion in new revenue, an amount they initially dismissed as paltry as they have pushed for an equal ratio of new taxes and spending cuts to Medicare and other domestic programs.
Democrats were considering asking for $800 billion in new revenue, less revenue than their initial $1 trillion proposal, but an amount that would require the GOP to move upward – a difficult political climb.
High-level talks also were under way across the Capitol, where Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., met and also separately convened closed-door meetings with the supercommittee members from their parties. The supercommittee’s practical deadline is Monday night because the panel must post any proposal internally at least 48 hours before a vote.