John Dickerson has a fine piece up at Slate that separates the signal from the noise on the “Fiscal Cliff”. He points out that nothing Saxby Chambliss or any other Senator or White House official says means much, and that House Republicans are the only voice that matters right now. Obama has previously offered to make spending changes to Social Security and Medicare and has more recently made a very concrete revenue offer: Let the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthiest Americans. So it might be safe to say that the only question is whether House Republicans will give on this revenue demand.
So far, the 241 Representatives in question have given their standard-bearer John Boehner much more leeway to bargain than last summer. Many have conceded the need to increase revenue (in ways which may or may not actually make a dent in the deficit), while some un-elected Republicans are at least hinting that they will or should go further and raise rates. And, of course, lots of important people are directing their ire at Grover Norquist. Still, it’s worth parsing the vague statements about tax rates specifically coming from rank-and-file House Republicans, from the big thorns in Boehner’s side (i.e. the Jim Jordans and Tom Prices), to committee chairs that have a few more horses to trade than the average Representative.
Here’s outgoing head of the Republican Policy Committee, Georgia Rep. Tom Price on Sunday, talking to CNN’s Candy Crowley:
PRICE: Tax revenue, which means broadening the base, lowering the rates, closing the loopholes, limiting the deductions, limiting the credits, and making certain that we identify the appropriate spending reductions so that we have, indeed, a balanced approach.
CROWLEY: OK, but we're still at the place where everything gets hung up. No increases in tax rates. That is still the position of House Republicans, correct?
PRICE: Well, again, we would be happy to look at that if it solved the problem. The problem is, it doesn't solve the problem. We want a real solution, which means increasing tax revenue through pro- growth policies.
"Only in Washington does it make sense to raise taxes to prevent tax hikes. I don't buy into that. Nor does it make sense to permanently raise taxes to provide only temporary tax relief. For those who are worried about the deficit impact I would say this: Washington does not have a revenue problem, we have a spending problem. The notion that we have to raise taxes to reduce the deficit is just wrong”
Upton comments Tuesday underscore how unlikely that scenario is as talks about avoiding the "fiscal cliff" unfold. Asked if he would accept a carbon tax along with a tax cut elsewhere, Upton said, "I don’t like the idea."
“We got a loud and clear message from the voters. The president only defines revenue as raising taxes. We see revenue coming from getting the economy moving again.”
“I think elections are over. Let’s sit down and find a bipartisan way that we can solve this problem, not go to a fiscal cliff while at the same time have a pro-growth agenda were we grow jobs.”
It’s noteworthy that none of these people specifically ruled out a yes vote for raising tax rates--they are simply expressing their disgust and displeasure with it. More importantly, just in the last few days, one leading House Republican has actually spoken out in support of raising tax rates for the top 2 percent of incomes. And we also heard Eric Cantor come off surprisingly magnanimous (or at least more evasive and non-committal than a year ago) recently. So I think it’s fair to say that Boehner at least has room to cut a deal on tax rates, not just revenue--even if right now he’s only talking about revenues, and even if the fast-shifting convention wisdom says he only has permission to close loopholes or cap deductions.
This post was produced with research help from Sarah Sloat
UPDATE: Made some small changes for clarity. Also, don't think that two New York Representatives, Peter King and Chris Gibson, disavowing Norquist means much. Gibson, for his part, came out for the Cooper-LaTourrette plan, which the Bipartisan Policy Center explains does not raise rates: the plan suggests lowering rates across the board and eliminates deductions to 'broaden the base'. King also did not necessarily express support for rate increases in his Meet the Press interview. Tom Cole is still the only House Republican that has voiced anything less than total opposition to the rate increase Obama is demanding.