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Fiscal cliff: Will GOP put taxes on the table to avoid blow to economy?

In a bid to blunt attacks by Democrats, Sen. Pat Toomey reprises his 2011 offer of a GOP tax hike. Republicans, he says, are not determined to protect the wealthy at all costs and tax hikes could be part of a deal.

By Staff writer / July 24, 2012

Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania (r) participates in Sept 11 hearing of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction (known as the "supercommittee"), co-chaired by Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington and Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas (center)

J. Scott Applewhite/AP/File

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Calling Democrats’ willingness to allow the country to go over the year-end “fiscal cliff” both “stunning” and “disturbing,” Sen. Pat Toomey (R) of Pennsylvania argued in a speech Tuesday at the Brookings Institution that Republicans had proven a willingness to include tax hikes to fix America’s fiscal trajectory, even in the face of their pledge to never raise taxes.

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Senator Toomey's speech comes shortly before Republicans and Democrats will tangle on competing tax proposals on the floor of the House and Senate later this week. Republicans are pushing for a full extension of the Bush tax cuts, saying anything less is a massive tax increase on small businesses. Democrats, on the other hand, say Republicans' lack of willingness to pass their plan – the extension of tax cuts for household income up to $250,000 – right away shows the GOP is holding out higher taxes on 98 percent of Americans for tax cuts on the wealthiest 2 percent. 

Toomey's speech also came in response to remarks from Sen. Patty Murray (D) of Washington, the Senate’s fourth-ranking Democrat, in the same forum the week prior. In her July 16 speech, Senator Murray argued that unless Republicans agree to raise taxes on the rich, Democrats will not back a compromise measure to avoid $600 billion in automatic spending cuts and tax increases on Jan. 1. 

“If Republicans won’t work with us on a balanced approach, we are not going to get a deal,” said Senator Murray,  chairman of the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, in her speech. “[I]f we can’t get a good deal – a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share – then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013, rather than lock in a long-term deal this year that throws middle-class families under the bus.”

New taxes – the “balance” Democrats are seeking in addition to lower spending – are, as Toomey put it, “anathema” to Republicans.

But Toomey had, famously, offered Democrats higher tax revenue during 2011 negotiations aimed at heading off the budget-cutting sequester. They were rejected, Toomey said, because Democrats wanted more. By bringing forward that proposal again on Tuesday, Toomey attempted to short-circuit Democratic attacks that claim Republicans are both ideologically rigid in their approach to higher taxes and willing to make the middle class bear the brunt of any budgetary changes.

The sequester, or the automatic spending reductions mandated by the Budget Control Act, is the result of compromise legislation that ended last summer’s debt-ceiling fight. That legislation increased America’s loan limit in exchange for imposing spending caps on the next 10 years of federal budgets and creating the “sequester” to slash government spending by a predetermined amount (about $1.2 trillion over the next decade) even further if Congress couldn’t agree to deeper cuts. Toomey was one of six Republicans assigned to the so-called “supercommittee,” a bipartisan group of 12 lawmakers tasked with finding $1.5 trillion in debt reduction over the next decade.

The group couldn’t find a formula for offsetting those reductions, and so they’re slated to hit the economy as automatic spending cuts come Jan. 1.
 
But before they announced failure, Toomey offered a plan to offset the $1.2 trillion including $250 billion in new tax revenues coupled with changes to individual tax reform that cut marginal tax rates by 20 percent for every tax bracket. That was alongside changes to Medicare creating higher tax receipts ($150 billion) and $100 billion in non-tax revenues like user fees and asset sales for a total of $500 billion in net deficit reduction.

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