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June 21, 2011 9:10 AM Revenues or no revenues; that is the question

By Steve Benen

As the bipartisan debt-reduction talks continue, participants are starting to realize they need to pick up the pace. As the Washington Post reported, “Over the next six weeks, negotiators must strike a bipartisan compromise to slice more than $2 trillion from the federal budget by 2021, reduce the complex plan to writing and persuade a bitterly divided Congress to support it.”

With another recess coming up on the Hill, this appears rather daunting.

But the ticking clock is still secondary to the problem of Democrats paying a ransom Republicans will find acceptable.

Remember, to reduce the debt, officials can have more money coming in, less money going out, or some combination of the two. Yesterday, Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the chief Senate Republican negotiator in the talks, reiterated his belief that he doesn’t want any additional revenue coming in at all. Why? Because his far-right ideology says so.

In an unexpected twist, it appears House Republicans, usually the more extreme bunch, have a more constructive attitude.

Last week’s resounding votes on ethanol subsidies were just the start. Republicans are now starting to eye all sorts of tax breaks and special-interest loopholes once considered sacred cows as they seek ways to increase government revenue without actually raising tax rates.

The targeting of long-protected tax breaks — for ethanol, research and development, manufacturing and foreign company income — is a sign that key House Republicans are ready to break with the orthodoxy of past tax debates while ditching special interests that have long held sway in tax reform discussions.

“We are not opposed to revenues,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) told reporters. “We are just opposed to tax increases.”

Now, it’s important to note that, in context, the House GOP’s willingness to consider additional revenue is happening outside the debt-reduction talks. Instead, Republicans are expressing this openness as part of possible tax-reform efforts, not the Biden-led discussions.

That said, the fact that Eric Cantor, of all people, is willing to say his caucus is “not opposed to revenues” is the sort of thing that could affect the debt-reduction negotiations — and remind Kyl and his cohorts that their line looks even more ridiculous when it’s to the right of their House colleagues.

I’d also note the obligatory reference to the moving goalposts and, to mix metaphors, the absurd new center of gravity. For years, the assumption was that debt-reduction talks would always involve a combination of less spending and more revenue, with the parties arguing over the ratio. With the radicalization of the Republican Party, it’s considered a minor miracle when Dems can get the GOP to even consider both sides of the budget ledger, and in the case of Jon Kyl, it’s still not even a possibility.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • Josef K on June 21, 2011 9:34 AM:

    I often wonder what it will take to restore sanity to our system of governance. The only thing I can conceive that'd do the job anymore is a metor strike wiping out the entire Beltway.

    I don't want that to happen, especially as I still have good friends living inside US395. But stories like this, with statements like those of Cantor and Boener, leave me little room for hope anymore.

  • T2 on June 21, 2011 9:49 AM:

    You hear so much bleating from the TeaBag section of the GOP about the "Constitution" and so forth. And history (real, not GOP History) says that taxation without representation was a major driver in the creation of our early government. We have representation (at least white people do), but the TeaGOP seems to want to do away with the "taxation" part.

  • jcricket on June 21, 2011 10:00 AM:

    Of course the House Republicans feel safe in publicly declaring that subsidies and loopholes are on the table. For the past two years just about every bill the House has passed has died waiting for the Senate to do something with it. Cantor can have his cake and eat it too, knowing that none of his sponsors tax loopholes really are in danger.

  • square1 on June 21, 2011 10:04 AM:

    For years, the assumption was that debt-reduction talks would always involve a combination of less spending and more revenue, with the parties arguing over the ratio.

    Really? Who had that assumption? I didn't realize that Grover Norquist appeared on the political scene in the last six months.

    I will never understand this writing device of Benen's to appear shocked -- shocked, shocked!! -- when, every single day, Republicans act like they have acted go the past 10-15 years.

    What Kyl is saying is what Republicans ALWAYS say. And we all know this. For Benen to feign surprise at all this is an insult to all of our intelligences.

  • square1 on June 21, 2011 10:15 AM:

    Just to be clear, the GOP's aversion to raising "revenue" through eliminating subsidies and the like is not ideological. House Republicans are more radical, but less corrupt, than their Senate cohorts. It should come as no surprise that tea bagger Congresscritters would be more open to closing tax loopholes and subsidies than the Senators who have spent years being bribed by the beneficiaries of the loopholes and subsidies.

  • kahner on June 21, 2011 10:21 AM:

    The obvious question is why are house republicans sounding slightly more reasonable on revenue increases via ending subsidies and loopholes. The only 2 answers i can come up with are:
    1) Its just PR bullcrap and they have no real intention of letting anything like that actually pass or
    2) They know they can't block an increase in the debt ceiling so they're looking for any way to provide some sort of budget savings to save face when they give in.

  • FRP on June 21, 2011 12:11 PM:

    Imposing restrictions on womens health by forbidding participation of certain dollars mixed in with perfectly legal procedures , regardless of its attractive and enjoyable cruelties and ignorance , is oddly enough , a tax on womens health insurance .

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