WASHINGTON — The battle over whether tax increases can be used to cut the nation's debt flared Tuesday as the Senate's Democratic budget writer floated a possible millionaire's surtax to help cut projected deficits over the next decade. But Republican leaders flatly said no to tax increases.
Democratic officials said Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., raised the idea of an extra tax on the wealthiest taxpayers and the Senate's Democratic leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., called for an end to tax subsidies for oil and gas companies. House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell both staked out seemingly unyielding positions against tax increases
The parties exchanged volleys over taxes even as bipartisan congressional negotiators working with Vice President Joe Biden struggled for common ground on spending cuts that would help erode long-term deficits.
Boehner is calling for trillions of dollars in spending cuts, and the Democrats, too, acknowledge that spiraling annual deficits require spending restraint. But the differences over possible tax increases, even if they would spare regular wage-earners, underscore the chasm between the two parties.
The conflicting approaches put added pressure on the bipartisan budget negotiators who met with Biden for the second time in a week. At the same time, the administration is seeking an increase in the government's borrowing authority, and Republicans see that debt ceiling vote as critical leverage.
Biden, emerging from a two-hour meeting with congressional negotiators across from the White House, voiced optimism about the talks, but indicated that top House and Senate leaders might ultimately have to become involved to seal any bargain.
"Whether we get to the finish line with this group is another question," he said.