Debt, Elections Prod GOP to Ease Anti-tax Stance

By: Charles Babington, Associated Press
By: Charles Babington, Associated Press

Washington, D.C. (AP) - The GOP's image as a rigidly anti-tax party is softening. Spurred by federal debt worries in Congress, the shift conceivably could reshape the Republican Party's brand ahead of the 2012 elections, forcing tough decisions by its presidential candidates.

Some of the party's staunchest fiscal conservatives have surprised colleagues by saying targeted tax hikes are acceptable if they lead Democrats to accept deep government spending cuts.

Whether or not Congress' deficit-reduction talks succeed, the Republicans' offer has touched off a debate unlikely to end soon. The altered stance would upend party orthodoxy, which holds that deficits should be tamed entirely by spending cuts, with no tax increases.

In recent months, growing numbers of Republican lawmakers and strategists have grown wary of the no-exceptions position. They fear independent voters will abandon the GOP next year if it seems too rigid and beholden to tea partyers. They also worry that another deficit-reduction impasse will further erode Congress' image, and House Republicans might be handy election targets.

Some of those Republicans hope Democrats will agree to a deal that would include cuts to Medicare and, eventually, Social Security. Such a bargain might protect Republicans from so-called "Mediscare" attacks next fall, based on their embrace of an earlier GOP budget plan that would privatize and shrink Medicare for future beneficiaries.

Publicly, Republican lawmakers say they are motivated by the dire need to curb the deficit and reassure financial markets that the government can tax and spend responsibly.

Rep. Charles Bass, R-N.H., recently told NPR that he might renege on his pledge to oppose higher taxes, even if it hurts him politically. Bass said he also pledged to "defend America against enemies, both domestic and foreign. And I consider the debt crisis in this country to be a real threat to the future of America."

The Republican tax-hike overture has turned heads largely because its sponsors rank among Washington's best-known critics of tax increases. Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania is a former head of the conservative Club for Growth. Backers of his plan include Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who holds similar stature among fiscal conservatives.

Both are members of the 12-person bipartisan "supercommittee" tasked with reaching a debt-reduction deal by next week.

Toomey's plan would raise $300 billion in new tax revenues while overhauling the federal tax code. Republican officials say it would drop the top tax rate on personal income to 28 percent from the current 35 percent. It would reduce or eliminate some well-known itemized deductions and reduce the corporate tax rate.

The plan also would extend the Bush-era tax cuts, now set to expire at the end of next year. Most Democrats oppose that idea. It also would trim cost-of-living increases for Social Security recipients.

House Speaker John Boehner is among several top Republicans who have blessed Toomey's plan. Those avoiding a public position so far include House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.

"The significance of someone as conservative as Senator Toomey putting forward a plan with revenue raisers cannot be overstated as proof of the willingness on our side to find a compromise solution," said Kyle Downey, spokesman for Sen. John Thune, R-S.D.

But congressional Democrats have not accepted Toomey's offer. They have called for greater revenue increases, and different priorities for spending cuts.

If the supercommittee fails to reach a $1.2 trillion deficit-cutting deal by Wednesday, automatic spending cuts totaling that amount would take effect beginning in 2013.

Republican presidential candidates have given varied responses to Toomey's tax overture.

"The contours that I'm hearing about are very similar to the program that I've put out," former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman told reporters in New Hampshire. If the plan phases out tax loopholes and deductions, lowers income tax rates, broadens the base and simplifies the code, "it's something that I could be in favor of," he said.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has avoided direct comment on Toomey's plan. A campaign spokeswoman said Romney "does not believe that more revenues and tax increases are the answer to our fiscal woes."

Texas Gov. Rick Perry "wants to look at details, but if those details include a tax increase, he's not going to be for it," a spokesman said.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has denounced the supercommittee process rather than the Toomey plan itself. "Secret negotiations among a handful of members will lead to a gigantic bill no one understands," Gingrich said Thursday.

At an Aug. 11 presidential debate, just before Perry entered the race, all those attending said they would reject a deficit-reduction plan if it included $10 in spending cuts for every $1 in new revenues.

Support for Toomey's plan, whether it bears fruit or not, suggests many Republican officials are more open to compromise. But hardly all.

Several conservative activists lambasted Toomey's plan, predicting a voter backlash if it becomes law. Radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt called it "an enormous breach of faith with the voters" who put Republicans back in control of the House in the 2010 elections.

A conservative Arizona website, Seeing Red AZ, called Toomey's move stunning. It said Toomey, "long a conservative icon, presents a disappointing caricature as he crosses the line by supporting this tax increase."

Other conservative Republicans, however, say Toomey's effort is a savvy approach that might gather momentum.

"Republicans are starting to think, whether right or not, that the first party to walk away from some or all of its orthodoxy to make a deal is going to reap a pretty significant benefit with the public," said Republican lobbyist Mike McKenna. "If you can bring in some new revenue and open up the discussion of entitlement reform, that's a political win and a policy win."

Several Republicans said Grover Norquist, the best-known anti-tax-hike activist, has lost clout in recent months. Norquist says an adamant stand against tax increases is vital to the Republican Party's brand, even if Democrats are willing to make deep spending cuts in return.

Numerous Republicans have openly defied Norquist lately.

Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia criticized him on a range of issues in a House floor speech last month. "Have we really reached a point where one person's demand for ideological purity is paralyzing Congress to the point that even a discussion of tax reform is viewed as breaking a no-tax pledge?" Wolf asked.

Boehner raised eyebrows recently when he referred to Norquist, a feared figure in some political circles, as "some random person."


Associated Press writers Steve Peoples in New Hampshire, Mike Glover in Iowa and David Espo in Washington contributed to this report.

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  • by Jack Location: Tallahassee on Nov 18, 2011 at 03:12 PM
    Oh my god! The repubs finally think we need to raise taxes? Did hell freeze over while I wasn't looking? Somebody write this down!
  • by mc on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:47 AM
    Considering that 98% of millionaires today are first generation rich I'd say that it is equal oppertunity in this country. The rich just take the risk with their investments that most of us don't. That means they could lose it all. Sam Walton went bankrupt three times before Wal-mart succeded. A vast amount of the rich started from humble means. Gerry you have a hatered for the successful why not try to do something about your position in life instead of looking at those who succede with bitterness and you might just succede your self. But not trying and just hateing those who do try won't help you a bit. After decades of wealth distribution and trillions of dollar redistributed the percentage of the poor remain the same,in other words socialism is a huge failure. Poor kids parents should provide for their own kids needs and not let the govt. do their job for them . It doesn't take a village but it takes a family.
    • reply
      by Gerry on Nov 18, 2011 at 01:46 PM in reply to mc
      Was Eisenhower a Communist? A Socialist? I ask because you sound like a member of the John Birch Society. I have neither hatred nor envy for the successful. Do you consider Paris Hilton successful? I don't. I have asked for nothing for myself. Where did you get the 98% figure? I never said somebody with a net worth of $1 million is rich. Somebody with an income of $1 million annually could easily be rich.
      • reply
        by mc on Nov 19, 2011 at 05:22 AM in reply to Gerry
        While not a member of the John Birch Society I agree with some of it's principles . I'm just someone who works hard and sees the direction our country has been going for quite a while and doesn't like it. I do believe socialism is infiltrating the government and an attempt to switch us from a represenative republic over to a european style socialistic form of government has been going on since the early 1900's. And it has been on both sides of the aisle.OPbama has just sent us in this direction at warp speed and has awaken a sleeping giant in the American people.Thus the succsessful arival of the tea party. Paris Hilton and the like are part of the 2% who inherited their wealth and most of them are liberal , Like the Kennedys, the rochefellers , Hiltons and such plus manycongress that live off of trust funds which don't count as income. The 98% are actually earning it and are the ones targeted by this administsration for punishment through higher taxes. What people earn is none of our buisness and what they do isn't either. We all could achieve it if we work hard and are willing to take the risk.
    • reply
      by JES on Nov 19, 2011 at 06:12 AM in reply to mc
      That is the falacy of the far right. Soon everyone in Tallahassee will be millionaires. Some of us are very well off. But most people in Tall are middle class or lower. keep voting against you interest instead by voting for a small minority who has only their own interest and not your. MC
      • reply
        by mc on Nov 19, 2011 at 04:43 PM in reply to JES
        Jes , give it a try before knocking it. work hard and maybe your ideas could do well.
  • by Gerry Location: Tallahassee on Nov 18, 2011 at 06:01 AM
    Sen Pat Toomey's plan makes the Bush tax cuts permanent. That is what Republicans really want. Toomey's plan is a Trojan horse. The US had no debt problem and no deficit problem when Bush was inaugurated. The Bush tax cuts blow a hundreds-of-billion-of-dollars-sized hole in each fiscal year's budget.
    • reply
      by mc on Nov 18, 2011 at 07:22 AM in reply to Gerry
      Yes this is what we want. It is our money anyway. Liberals look at money as being the governments and we get what government allows us to keep. Democrats also say that tax cuts cost government too much. Tax cuts don't cost government anything it isn't theirs. It is the spending not lack of revenue that's causing the deficit . Billions under Bush and Trillions under Obama.
      • reply
        by Gerry on Nov 18, 2011 at 08:45 AM in reply to mc
        Why is it so hard to cut spending? The people really seem to like social insurance. It's either tax and spend or borrow and spend. It's really too bad taxes were cut but spending was increased 10 years ago. Thank goodness Reagan showed deficits don't matter. Was Eisenhower a Communist? A Socialist?
        • reply
          by Anonymous on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:16 AM in reply to Gerry
          Regan policies brought about the biggest growth of the economy in modern history it took clinton almost his first term to grind the econmy to a halt. If the Republicans had stopped spending in the nineties the tax cuts would have issued another growth period. Yes some people like social spending that has resulted n some who won't and can't stand on their own two feet.America was not built to greatness by people waiting with their hand out for entitlements, but by working hard and not expecting government to bouy them up. People today have grown up thinking they are entitled to everything,Hence the occupy movement. We are promised equal opportunity not equal outcomes.
        • reply
          by Gerry on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:43 AM in reply to Gerry
          @ Anonymous Equal opportunity? That's a good cliche. Please don't bother thinking about that cliche. George W Bush was born on 3rd base. Did you have equal opportunity with P. Hilton, D. Trump, or the Koch brothers? Did you have equal opportunity with John, Robert, or Edward Kennedy? The problem in this country is welfare queens driving Cadillacs. We should do away with medical care and school lunches for poor kids. Poor kids should each learn to stand on their own 2 feet.
        • reply
          by Reagan Republican on Nov 18, 2011 at 11:14 AM in reply to Gerry
          @ Gerry Why do you always go to the extremes or state small percentage basis figures to try to make a point about your viewpoints? Most of us are focused on having ideas and supporting legislative policies to improve our local community.
        • reply
          by Gerry on Nov 18, 2011 at 03:43 PM in reply to Gerry
          @RR How do you know what most of us are focused on? What is the source of your information about "most of us"? Do you read every post? How many people post here, considering many post with no identifier. How do you distinguish among the many who post with no identifier?
        • reply
          by Reagan Republican on Nov 18, 2011 at 10:03 PM in reply to Gerry
          @ Gerry Most of us in this community, who are facing the problems of life everyday, are first focused on improving the lives of all who live in Tallahassee. Remember it takes a village....
  • by Surprise Location: leon county on Nov 18, 2011 at 03:14 AM
    Read my lip's time again? Might better look back on how good that worked last time.
  • by Georgia Boy Location: Cairo on Nov 18, 2011 at 03:09 AM
    Which is EXACTLY what the Democrats want. I am against raising any tax until needless, duplicative, and fraudulent spending is cut out. Government is the only place I've ever seen that expenditures are not revisited once started and qustioned as to their validity and need. Once we get down to the bare essentials if taxes are are required I might agree raising taxes is acceptable. But not until then!
  • by mc on Nov 18, 2011 at 03:02 AM
    To GOP, don't isten to the media or your fears and stick to your No tax ideals. You can't rejuvenate the private sector by taking more money out of it. The problem is not a revenue problem but a spending problem . No more spending ie. stimulus, obamacare, bank bailouts,slush funds to democrat contributers, social spending. GOP don't give in hopeing the otherside will like you and want to get along with you. They don't and won't. Stand up for the working and producing people of America and don't do tax increases.
  • by Anonymous on Nov 17, 2011 at 07:04 PM
    Many GOP politicians are conceeding that there should be some tax increase and not the adamant "no taxes period" as they are facing the fact that they will be voted out for not helping to solve the debt problem that many of them voted to approve expenditures that increased the debt in the past 20 years.
    • reply
      by True Word on Nov 18, 2011 at 02:51 AM in reply to
      The "no tax" concept never was based on financial reality, what's right, or even what's best for the USA. The "no tax" concept was and is just political rhetoric designed to "get politicians elected period". We all know that's True Word; but we all like to pretend it's not.
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