The president and congressional leaders met this morning at the White House to discuss ways to reduce the deficit — and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says there’s a 50/50 chance a debt limit deal will be reached in 48 hours — but just what the meeting accomplished is not yet clear.
Prior to the meeting, Republicans sent seemingly mixed signals about whether they would be open to “revenue increases” — a term all too often used as a euphemism for tax hikes.
Yesterday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), the No. 2 GOP senator, said Republicans have agreed to between $150 billion and $200 billion in revenue increases [see updates below]. Today, Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), the No. 2 GOP representative, reiterated the party’s commitment to no new taxes.
Of course, tax hikes aren’t the only way to raise revenues, and Kyl, especially, promotes the sale of government lands as an alternative to tax increases. He has also proposed increased fees for government services. Cantor has suggested a sort of tax compromise, saying Republicans would agree to close certain tax loopholes as long as those loopholes were offset by tax cuts elsewhere.
These comments make it hard for me to not be cynical about the result of the deficit reduction meetings. How much you want to bet they will net moderate cuts and the least controversial revenue raisers the Republicans can muster, but no more? Procedural reforms — those most important to ensure the country doesn’t run up against the debt ceiling issue again and again — will likely be lost in the shuffle, leaving principled conservatives in Congress with little choice other than to vote against a deal that will ultimately pass. After all, the closer we’ve gotten to the debt ceiling deadline, the less the key players seem to talk about anything other than cuts and revenues. Very few have continued to talk about the debt ceiling itself and, to my knowledge, no Democrats have yet signed on to “Cut, Cap and Balance,” nor have they proposed procedural reforms of their own. (Please somebody tell me if I’m missing something here — I’d love to find out I’m wrong on this!)
In the interest of staying positive, though, I’m going to reflect back on Sen. Ron Johnson’s comments on a conference call this morning and Rush Limbaugh’s impassioned remarks on the subject on his show today (more on that shortly). Too bad neither of them were in the meeting at the White House.
Update: The president issued a brief statement at the end of this morning’s meeting to say nothing has been agreed to and talks will continue through the weekend. Whoop-de-do.
Update: Kyl’s office responded to my story, concerned that this post makes it sound as though Kyl said Republicans agreed to tax increases (as Reuters and others wrongly tweeted). I thought I made it clear the revenue increases Kyl was referring to were land sales and government service fee increases, but just to be sure there’s no confusion about what he actually said, here are his on-the-floor remarks, posted at Breitbart TV.
Of course, I’m far more OK with the revenue increases Kyl’s talking about than I am with tax hikes, but it doesn’t change that I’m disheartened by all the discussion of revenues, in general. I’d rather Republican leadership put Obama on the defensive for not more seriously and publicly discussing procedural reforms like statutory spending caps.
Update: Yet more information from Kyl’s office. These discussions in which Republicans said they’d consider certain kinds of revenue increases — the discussions to which Kyl was referring and to which I was responding — actually occurred during the now-defunct Biden talks.
“What the GOP tentatively agreed to was as part of the failed and now-defunct Biden debt discussions – not part of any current [discussion] between Obama, Boehner and McConnell,” Kyl’s spokesman explains. “Also, the Reuters story you link to suggests that an agreement or deal has been struck. That, too, is not correct.”
In other words, when Reuters reported Republicans had agreed to revenue increases, the wire service was reporting old pseudo-news (i.e. the “news” that, during the Biden talks, GOPers tentatively agreed to certain kinds of revenue increases) and making it sound fresh. I’ve delinked this piece from the misleading Reuters report. I also changed the homepage excerpt to “Reuters takes Kyl’s comments out of context.”