Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press
WASHINGTON — Republican presidential hopefuls are assaulting a proposal by GOP lawmakers on a bipartisan deficit-reduction panel that calls for increased tax revenues even as the special supercommittee appears increasingly headed for deadlock.
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, campaigning in Iowa, said he would "do everything in my power to defeat" any committee deficit-reduction plan that includes higher taxes.
David Miner, a spokesman for Rick Perry said the Texas governor "wants to look at details but if those details include a tax increase he's not going to be for it. He does not favor higher taxes."
Meanwhile, the No. 2 House Republican, Majority Leader Eric Cantor of Virginia, declined to endorse a proposal for almost $300 billion in higher tax revenues over the coming decade offered last week by fellow Republicans on the bipartisan congressional panel last week.
"I'm not going to be opining as to any reports, hypotheticals or anything connected with their work," Cantor told reporters Monday.
Cantor still expressed confidence the panel would agree on a deficit-reduction plan of at least $1.2 trillion by a Nov. 23 deadline, but time is slipping away and there's no sign of a deal. Deep pessimism has taken hold, replacing a flurry of optimism early last week.
Some conservative Republicans are restive about last week's GOP proposal for higher tax revenues, which would be skimmed off the top in a future overhaul of the tax code that trades the elimination of many tax breaks for significantly lower income tax rates.
The GOP rank and file was to be briefed on the supercommittee negotiations at a closed-door session Tuesday. The House returned Monday from a weeklong vacation.
The committee has been at work for two months, hoping to succeed at a task that has defied the best efforts of high-ranking political leaders past and present.
The principal stumbling blocks revolve around taxes, on the one hand, and the large federal benefit programs of Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, on the other.
Democrats are unwilling to agree to cuts in benefit programs unless Republicans will accept higher taxes, particularly on the highest-income individuals and families.
Republicans counter that out-of-control spending largely accounts for the government's enormous budget deficits, and they say raising taxes will only complicate efforts to help the economy recover from the worst recession in more than seven decades.
At the same time, each side is grappling with the possible political consequences of the committee's work, with an eye on the 2012 campaign for control of the White House and Congress.
Liberal Democrats are highly reluctant to agree to curbs on programs the party long has been identified with, and last week members on the supercommittee jettisoned an earlier proposal to slow the rise in cost-of-living benefits for Social Security recipients.
The same goes for conservatives, many of whom fear the possible political cost of changing their positions in order to pursue a less-than-certain bipartisan compromise on deficit reduction.
Many GOP office holders have signed a pledge circulated by Americans for Tax Reform not to vote for higher taxes. The organization is led by Grover Norquist, a conservative activist, although in comments to reporters Cantor suggested that influence by an outsider isn't the dominant concern.
"It's not about Grover Norquist. It's about commitments that people made to the electorate they represent, the people that sent them here. That's what it's about," he said.
Many tea party conservatives are also unhappy with a $182 billion-plus spending measure unveiled Monday night. The measure bundles the 2012 budgets of five Cabinet departments with a stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown at midnight Friday
The spending legislation would represent the first concrete step to implement a controversial budget pact sealed by President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans this summer, which traded a $2 trillion-plus increase in the government's ability to borrow to meet its obligations with promises of future budget cuts.
The follow-up spending bills, taken together, would roughly freeze agency budgets at levels negotiated this spring for the 2011 budget year in hard-fought negotiations between Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.
The August budget agreement set a $1.043 trillion "cap" on agency operating levels, about a $7 billion cut — or less than 1 percent — from prior-year levels. But the budget pact also permits more than $11 billion in additional spending for natural disasters, which means the current crop of spending bills will ultimately exceed the cost of the last round — a sore point with tea party conservatives already unhappy with the GOP's efforts to cut spending.
The spending measure unveiled Monday covers a wide range of programs, including community development grants, Amtrak operating subsidies, funding for private sector space flight and the FBI. Community development grants to local governments absorbed cuts, and Obama failed to win the big budget boost he sought for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, one of the main agencies responsible for implementing last year's financial services overhaul legislation.
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