Republicans Leaders Cautious But Hopeful for Tax Reform

Senate Republican leaders were tightlipped during a Friday afternoon press conference about addressing any topics outside of the immediate priorities outlined by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D.-Nev.).

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.-Ky.) pledged to cooperate with the Democrats’ immediate legislative agenda and said he was focused on modifying the likely increase to the minimum wage to include small business tax reform measures.

“It is appropriate to remember the last time we raised the minimum wage in 1996, it also had a small business tax and regulatory provision,” McConnell pointed out. He indicated that the incoming package had bipartisan support and said he was “optimistic” about Democratic support for these reforms.

McConnell was reluctant to discuss much else.

“I’d rather for today address the issues we know are coming and in the order they are coming and we’ll see where we go on the other side,” he said. “We know there will not be 100% agreement on everything, obviously.”

McConnell then recalled the floor statement he delivered the previous day that carried a strong message of bipartisanship several times during the press conference.

At one point, Republican Conference Chairman Jon Kyl (Ariz.) read a portion of McConnell’s speech. Kyl told reporters, “Our leader said the Senate can accomplish great things over the next two years, but this opportunity will surely slip from our grasp if we do not commit ourselves to a restoration of civility and common purpose. And so, as we open this session, I stake my party to a pledge: when faced with an urgent issue, we will act; when faced with a problem, we will seek solutions, not mere political advantage.”

When asked about the Democrats’ likely “Pay As You Go” proposal—which many Republicans consider to be a “phony budget tool” to conceal new deficit spending—Kyl declined to comment. He said, “The last thing we’d want to do is begin speculating about issues that we will be talking about a little bit later before we’ve even developed positions.”

Reporters peppered the senators with questions related to the Iraq War and a letter sent that day from Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the President opposing any proposed surge of U.S. troops into the region.

McConnell addressed those questions with a brief response.

“Most Republicans are waiting to hear what the President is going to recommend in the near future,” said McConnell. “I think the appropriate response for the moment is to say that we’re going to wait and see what he is going to recommend before we act.”

Senators John Cornyn (R.-Tex.), Trent Lott (R.-Miss.) and John Ensign (Nev.) were also present at the event, but offered no remarks related to the war in Iraq.

After the Democrats’ first 100 hours in power expires, McConnell said he is hoping to tackle comprehensive immigration and Social Security reform.

“We ought to take advantage of the opportunity presented by divided government to do bold things, big things, important things,” he said.