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Cracks in GOP promise of no new taxes for deficit cuts?

To help the deficit 'super committee' reach a deal, some Republicans appear to be open to the idea of ending some tax breaks, despite opposition from antitax crusaders.

By Staff writer / October 28, 2011

House Budget Committee Chairman Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin speaks at the Heritage Foundation in Washington Wednesday. He has refused to be pinned down on whether he would support ending certain tax breaks.

Jacquelyn Martin/AP

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As Congress hurtles toward a self-imposed deadline to cut at least $1.2 trillion from deficits during the next 10 years, conservative lawmakers face tough choices on whether to keep their pledge to never raise taxes.

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Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, talks about US financial regulation and prospects for the 12-member super committee tasked with cutting at least $1.2 trillion from the federal deficit over the next ten years.

All six GOP members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction have signed the taxpayer protection pledge, launched in 1986 by Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), an antitax group. All but six House Republicans and seven US senators have also signed.

The pledge commits lawmakers to opposing any hikes in tax rates. It also opposes cutting tax breaks or loopholes, unless they are entirely offset by spending cuts or other tax breaks. The idea is to ensure that no new money goes to the federal government but instead remains in the wallets of taxpayers.

But that opposition to any net tax increase is emerging as a major obstacle to the deficit "super committee" reaching a deal by its Nov. 23 deadline. Democrats on the panel are committed to a “balanced” approach to deficit reduction, which includes increases to federal revenue, such as tax hikes on the highest-income Americans.

Now there are signs that, even for some prominent conservatives, the constraints of the ATR pledge are beginning to chafe.

Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, who chairs the House Budget Committee, lately is avoiding being forced to give a yes-or-no answer to questions on tax hikes. All GOP presidential hopefuls responded in a recent debate that they would oppose revenue increases as part of a deficit-reduction deal, even if the ratio was $1 in tax hikes for every $10 in spending cuts.

“I think that was more of a gotcha question and trying to get people to look like they violated some pledge they may have taken,” he said during an interview with National Public Radio’s “Morning Edition” on Friday. “I’m not going to play this game.”

“I believe you can get higher revenues through tax reform and economic growth, and I think that’s the way to do it, because you don’t want to compromise job creation,” he said.

Rep. Buck McKeon (R) of California, who chairs the House Armed Services Committee, is lobbying his colleagues hard to not accept further defense cuts as part of a deficit compromise. But he doesn’t want to be forced to choose between defense spending and a tax hike.

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