Boehner: Debt panel can start on major tax changes

By David Espo

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Sept. 15 2011 7:25 p.m. MDT

The committee's charter is to cut deficits, and Boehner said, "That has everything to do with jobs."

Ruling out tax increases, he said the panel has "only one option, spending cuts and entitlement reforms," a reference to government benefit programs such as Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

At the same time, he said the committee 'can tackle tax reform and it should." Boehner said it was probably unrealistic to expect the panel to rewrite the tax code by Nov. 23. "But it can certainty lay the groundwork by then for tax reform in the future that will enhance the environment for economic growth."

He said the elements of an eventual overhaul of the tax code would be lower rates for individuals and corporations while closing deductions, credits, and special carve-outs.

"Yes, tax reform should include closing loopholes. Not for the purposes of bringing more money to the government. But because it's the right thing," he said.

Boehner did not rule out that tax changes might result in additional government revenue, and officials in both parties say that in his talks with Obama last summer the two men were discussing the possibility that an overhaul could mean as much as an additional $800 billion for the Treasury over a decade.

At the White House, Carney said, "I would simply note that the speaker of the House made clear that in the negotiations he had with the president, he put, in his words, revenues on the table. Well, we believe revenues have to be on the table if we're going to solve our deficit and debt problems."

Similarly, in the same talks, Obama appeared willing to include a provision to slow the growth in cost-of-living increases in Social Security and to raise the age of eligibility for Medicare from 65 to 67.

Both provisions sparked strong opposition from liberal lawmakers in the president's own party, and it was not clear whether Obama has decided to rule them out of any future talks or was merely was shelving them for the time being.

The collapse last July of the talks between Obama and Boehner led to legislation that cut spending by nearly $1 trillion over a decade, averted a first-ever government default and created the debt committee that is just now beginning its work in earnest.

Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this story

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