Is the House G.O.P. Warming to Tax Increases?

John Boehner

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. -– While last month’s Congressional tangle over the debt ceiling suggested permanent partisan gridlock, signs are emerging that some House Republicans are opening the door to potential revenue increases, as Congressional leaders continued to name their members of a bipartisan committee charged with finding ways to tame the deficit.

In a town-hall-style meeting in Virginia on Tuesday night with four Republican House members – Scott Rigell, who represents the Virginia district where the meeting was held; Larry Bucshon of Indiana; Phil Gingrey of Georgia; and Phil Roe of Tennessee — audience members asked what, if any, revenues the representatives would accept as part of a final deal to cut deficits by at least $1.2 trillion over the next decade and pave the way for a second increase in the debt ceiling up to $1.5 trillion.

Of the four, three gave specific examples that they could possibly acquiesce to. Mr. Rigell – who had invited the other three House members to the meeting because it focused on health care and they are medical doctors – said he thought that at least a few forms of tax subsidies provided to oil companies should be on the table. Government should not subsidize one industry over another, Mr. Rigell said.

Mr. Gingrey said he found the question “difficult” and suggested that he had been struggling with the answer himself. Raising the rates on those earning $250,000 a year – a category of beneficiaries under the Bush tax cuts that some Democrats have suggested be taxed more – was a no-go for him, but for those earning over $700,000, he said, “I’m not really sure.”

In response to request for elaboration, Mr. Gingrey said Wednesday in an e-mail: “I have a proven decade-long record of voting against tax increases, and believe that tax hikes on anyone in the middle of an economic recession is the last thing our country needs. Instead, as included in the Fiscal Year 2012 budget passed by the House, we should pursue comprehensive tax reform that will close loopholes and revise the tax code to be simpler and less burdensome to promote economic growth, incentivize investment and encourage job creators.”

Mr. Roe said that he would support closing certain legal loopholes that corporations take advantage of. “G.E. ought to pay some taxes,” he said, referring to General Electric, which has taken advantage of various loopholes in the tax system.

The members made their remarks as leaders in both chambers put together their 12-member committee charged with coming up with recommendations to tame the deficit.

On Tuesday, Speaker John A. Boehner appointed three Republican House members to the committee: Dave Camp of Michigan, who is chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee; Fred Upton of Michigan; and Jeb Hensarling of Texas, who is the Republican conference chairman.

Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, chose three senators: Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania; Rob Portman of Ohio; and Jon Kyl, the minority whip, who is retiring at the end of his term.

On Tuesday, the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, named three Democratic senators: Patty Murray of Washington, John Kerry of Massachusetts and Max Baucus of Montana.  Representative Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, the minority leader, has yet to name her three selections.

All six of the Republicans named have signed a pledge, written by Grover Norquist, not to raise taxes. But there are various ways of raising revenues, like closing the corporate loopholes or making adjustments to existing tax rates. All six are also supporters of a Balanced Budget Amendment, which will be voted on in Congress this fall.

Among the Democratic picks, the most surprising may be Mr. Kerry, who tends to focus on foreign policy rather than fiscal issues; however, absent the passage of the budget amendment or the adoption of the committee’s recommendations by Congress, large cuts to both discretionary spending and defense would automatically be triggered. Mr. Kerry, who is a military veteran, may be perceived as sensitive to those defense cuts.

Further, Mr. Toomey, along with numerous other Senate Republicans, has voted in the past to end ethanol subsidies, as he emphasized on a call with reporters Wednesday.

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