He even called out Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform and author of the “Taxpayer Protection Pledge,” an agreement to oppose all tax increases that nearly every Republicans lawmaker has signed. “Until our Republican colleagues are more concerned about the need to reduce the deficit than they’re worried about what Grover Norquist will say, we’re going to have a really difficult time reducing the deficit,” Van Hollen said, citing last week’s Senate vote to eliminate ethanol tax credits as a “positive sign.”
Van Hollen strongly suggested that the only disagreement on taxes was over the elimination of loopholes and subsidies, though a Senior GOP aide with knowledge of the talks tells National Review Online that’s not the case. “We would disagree with that notion,” the aide says. “Mr. Van Hollen’s perception of tax increase is at odds with the American people’s definition of one.”
In fact, even Republicans haven’t exactly been able to agree on what constitutes a “tax increase,” as evidenced by the vicious, ongoing feud
between Norquist and Sen. Tom Coburn (R., Okla.) over whether getting rid of a tax credit without cutting taxes elsewhere to offset the resulting revenue is the same as raising taxes. Republican leaders have largely shied away from the debate, and Speaker Boehner was characteristically vague when asked at today’s press conference. “We’ve been opposed to increasing taxes,” he said. Republicans’ willingness to accept the elimination of some tax expenditures, like Democrats’ willingness to accept entitlement reform, is seen as a potentially critical element when it comes to reaching a compromise.
Even Norquist felt compelled to weigh in on the day’s developments. “Finally, Democrats are getting honest about their plan for the country’s financial future, which is to hide behind tax hikes rather than fix the spending problem they created,”he said in a statement. “Lawmakers who want to hike taxes, rather than save the country from bankruptcy, have been excused from the table. It’s time for grown-ups to sit down and start addressing the country’s spending problem head on.”
Cantor’s decision is certainly a turning point in the negotiations, as positions have noticeably hardened in the last several days, especially on the Democratic side. To the Democrats, spending cuts are unthinkable. “We cannot cut our way out of debt,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said today. And just yesterday, Democratic leaders were arguing for more spending to fund a “stimulus” measure to boost the economy.
Van Hollen, following his meeting with the president, described the White House position as follows: 1) Make sure the economy is “fully charged” and 2) reduce the deficit. That should pretty well sum up where things stand at the moment. The divide on taxes is not surprising, but Republicans must be fairly shocked to find themselves arguing against additional spending measures, given the political climate. Boehner was not impressed. “On the same day the CBO called our debt crisis ‘daunting,’ Democrats leaders came out and asked for new spending,” he said. “As you’ll recall, we tried this. It was called the stimulus plan. And it didn’t work.”
— Andrew Stiles is a 2011 Franklin fellow.