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Sen. John Cornyn (Texas) dismissed suggestions today that Republican hopes of taking control of the Senate next year could be imperiled by the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction negotiations.
Congressional conservatives are moving to sink a tax reform and revenue blueprint hatched by super committee member Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.), with conservative activists and commentators warning that it could split the party and depress voter support for GOP Senate candidates in 2012.
But Cornyn, the National Republican Senatorial Committee chairman, said he has seen no sign of blowback and rejected claims that the Toomey plan would damage GOP prospects for winning the Senate.
“I’m not concerned about it,” Cornyn told Roll Call during a brief interview. “The thing that could hurt Republicans even more would be that we would appear to be completely unwilling to participate in a negotiated settlement of this dispute.”
Cornyn said the NRSC has received no complaints from donors or political allies in response to the Toomey plan, arguing that it has been a positive development from his perch as the GOP’s chief Senate strategist. However, Cornyn made clear that he prefers no agreement to a bad deal. The Republicans, eyeing a favorable map at this point in the cycle, need to win a net of four seats to flip the chamber from Democratic control.
“What I hear from our supporters is, if we can get something important done, I’d be willing to do more to help toward the solution. But what that doesn’t mean is we want to raise the financial burden on the very people we’re depending upon to create jobs,” Cornyn said. “But the point is, I think the American people want to see that our political system is capable of producing a satisfactory product, and right now that seems to be in some doubt.”
Toomey, the former president of the conservative anti-tax organization Club for Growth, authored a plan to lower tax rates for all income brackets beyond the current Bush-era levels — and make the change permanent — while either eliminating or curtailing various tax deductions for higher earners only. The plan, scored as generating tax revenue, also included significant entitlement and other reforms typically opposed by Democrats.
Super committee Democrats declined to embrace the proposal absent significant changes, leaving its viability in serious doubt. But that hasn’t stopped more than 70 House Republicans from circulating a letter in opposition. Nor has it allayed the concerns of conservatives off Capitol Hill, who compare it to when President George H.W. Bush compromised with Congressional Democrats on a budget that raised taxes, breaking a campaign promise in the process. He lost re-election in 1992.
CNBC television host Larry Kudlow, an ardent supporter of tax reform, said in an Investor’s Business Daily column today that Republicans would be better off politically if the super committee failed, rather than if they helped to craft a deal based on the Toomey plan, of which he is skeptical even on policy grounds.
“A super tax hike would irreparably split the GOP,” Kudlow wrote.
Conservative talk radio host Hugh Hewitt has voiced similar fears. In a blog post, he referred to Toomey and super committee Co-Chairman Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas) as the panel’s “two Republican tax raisers,” admonishing them for veering away from the anti-tax platform the Congressional GOP ran on in 2010.
“This political disaster should be avoided, even though it means a long fight over the disastrous Department of Defense sequestration,” wrote Hewitt, a defense hawk.
Opponents charge that the tax reform component is insufficient, worry about the hit on tax deductions for higher earners and complain that it generates too much revenue and not enough spending cuts.
Still, Cornyn defended the Toomey plan, saying it is just the kind of tax reform Republicans have been advocating for years. He acknowledged that reducing or ending popular tax deductions like those on home mortgages and charitable contributions could be problematic for some voters. But the Senator said the plan avoids tax increases that impede economic growth while shielding the middle class.
But conservatives are “livid about the Toomey plan, because the bedrock of the Republican Party is to stop tax hikes,” according to one Republican Congressional aide, who added that conservatives are skeptical that the revenue generated by the proposal would be applied to deficit reduction and a slimming of size and scope of government. And some fear that any intraparty rift, should one develop and persist, could bleed onto the Senate campaign trail.
Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.), who recruits and funds Republican Senate candidates through his Senate Conservatives Fund political action committee, said today that he would not support “any new tax increases,” although he left the door open to backing a plan that increases revenue by reforming the tax code.
DeMint said he would, at a minimum, hold new candidates to that standard. A deal including increases in taxes is “a problem for us. Certainly the candidates we would support through the Senate Conservatives Fund will be against new taxes,” the South Carolinian said.
However, it is unclear whether he would hold his current colleagues to the same level of ideological purity. DeMint would only say that “current incumbents are another matter” when asked whether he would endorse colleagues who vote for a deal that includes tax increases of any sort.
DeMint has walked a fine line when it comes to his Senate colleagues in recent years and has routinely been accused of backing primary challengers to other Republicans, most notably former Sen. Bob Bennett (Utah). DeMint, however, has steadfastly denied those complaints. He and Cornyn were often on opposite sides of GOP primaries last cycle, although each has made an effort to cooperate in 2012.
John Stanton contributed to this report.