Republican super committee Co-Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) appeared to double-down today on his contention that the GOP will not consider more tax increases as part of any deal to reduce the deficit.
“We have had multiple offers on the table. You know about the one ... frankly, there have been iterations of that offer on the table for quite some time. Now I’m not going to negotiate against myself. I’m not moving this particular offer,” Hensarling told a group of reporters at an impromptu press conference. “That is one offer we have put on the table that they can accept. I’m not going to negotiate against myself.”
In an effort to produce a deal that shaves at least $1.2 trillion from the deficit by Nov. 23, Republicans have offered to raise revenues by $250 billion by eliminating some popular tax code deductions. But Democrats have pushed for as much as $1 trillion in increased taxes and revenues.
Hensarling caused a stir Tuesday night when he said on CNBC that “any penny” more of increased revenue from what Republicans previously proposed would be a “step in the wrong direction” and that the GOP had “gone as far as we feel we can go.”
When pushed today to clarify his remarks and whether Republicans could offer more on taxes if they received more tax reform in return, Hensarling said: “I’m not rejecting any offer out of hand. I’m still waiting for a new offer to be put on the table.”
But the message seemed muddled. Seconds after he asserted that he would not summarily reject any proposals, Hensarling repeated, “We’re not changing this offer we have on the table.” He also said there were multiple offers being considered. Hensarling made his comments before a GOP meeting of super committee members.
Before Hensarling spoke today, Democrats had speculated whether he would temper his previous statements. They were caught off-guard by the strength of his Tuesday night comments and spent much of this morning criticizing his position.
“It isn’t as helpful as sitting at the table and trying to work through these things,” Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) told reporters after a Democrats-only meeting of super committee members.
“I am not going to negotiate in public. I’m not going to get into the back and forth. ... I don’t think it’s helpful,” he added.
Another super committee member, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), said Hensarling’s comments raise serious questions about Republican negotiators’ commitment to the talks.
“The question is whether they’ve said, ‘Take it or leave it,’ and don’t want to negotiate,” Van Hollen said earlier today.
Still, both sides appear to be taking the situation seriously — toward the end of their respective meetings, staff members were kicked out of the rooms by Republicans and Democrats alike to allow frank discussions on the status of the talks.
Following the Democrats’ meeting, Van Hollen said he hopes that Hensarling’s comments do not represent Republicans “drawing a line in their sand at their last offer. We hope that they’re not throwing in the towel on these negotiations. We’ll hope that they’ll continue to pursue agreement, as we’ve been doing over the last four days [with] active discussions.”
How much of the sniping is a public show and how much it represents an actual souring of relationships is unclear.
Although Van Hollen said negotiations have continued between the two sides over the past several days, both teams of negotiators appear to be digging in. Republicans today continued to insist that Democrats have not countered their offer from last week with a “realistic” proposal, but committee Co-Chairwoman Patty Murray (Wash.) said her party is waiting on the GOP to bring “us a real proposal.”
“I hope they have not walked away” she said.
On CNBC Tuesday, Hensarling defended the GOP’s latest proposal.
“We put $250 billion in what is known as static revenue on the table, but only if we can bring down rates,” he said.
“Any penny of increased static revenue is a step in the wrong direction,” he added. “We can only balance that with pro-growth reforms, and, frankly, the Democrats have never agreed [to] that, so I don’t know how many times I can tell you that that agreement is not going to happen.”
The GOP offer, crafted by super committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), aims to shave $1.2 trillion from the deficit overall. It includes $250 billion worth of tax code reform in exchange for making the Bush-era tax cuts permanent. The $250 billion in tax savings over the next decade would come from eliminating deductions in the existing code. Democrats have argued that the plan does not raise taxes enough and would not achieve its advertised savings by eliminating deductions alone.