Did Republicans Blink on Tax Increases?

Last night, the Reuters news service issued a message via Twitter that read, “FLASH: Republicans have agreed to $150 billion to $200 billion in increased tax revenues as part of budget talks, says Senator Kyl.”

That’s some pretty hairy, and easily misconstrued, verbiage.  Reuters elaborated with a more comprehensive report:

“If you add up all of the revenues that we Republicans have agreed to, it’s between $150 billion and $200 billion,” said Senator Jon Kyl, the No. 2 Republican in the Senate.

Kyl said two possible ways to bring additional revenue to the government would be through sales of government property and additional fees for government services.

Meanwhile, House of Representatives Majority Leader Eric Cantor floated a possible tax compromise, saying Republicans could agree to closing some tax breaks in a budget deal as long as they were offset with tax cuts elsewhere.

“Any discussion about loopholes must be accompanied by offsetting tax cuts,” Cantor said at a news conference.

Republicans had been adamant about tax increases not being included in a deficit-reduction deal that President Barack Obama hopes clears the way for also increasing U.S. borrowing authority.

Saying that “Republicans had been adamant about tax increases not being included in a deficit-reduction deal” cultivates a false impression.  As much as one might dislike the complex tangle of penalties and subsidies growing from our tax code like weeds, ending targeted tax breaks and offsetting them with general tax cuts is not the same thing as agreeing to a tax increase.

The Washington Post was also a bit disingenuous in reporting the statements of Cantor and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell:

“If the president wants to talk loopholes, we’ll be glad to talk loopholes,” Cantor said at his weekly roundtable with reporters. “We’ve said all along that preferences in the code aren’t something that helps economic growth overall. But listen, we’re not for any proposal that increases taxes, and any type of discussion should be coupled with offsetting tax cuts somewhere else.”

[…] Even as Cantor cracked the door open, however, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) slammed it shut, reiterating the long-standing Republican position that policymakers should consider eliminating tax breaks only as part of a comprehensive effort to rewrite the code and lower income tax rates.

McConnell isn’t really “slamming” a door that Cantor cracked open.  Their statements are not conflicting at all.  They both want the tax code simplified.  Cantor is willing to take about ending certain exemptions if the general tax rate is reduced.  McConnell’s talk of a “comprehensive effort to rewrite the code” does not contradict that.

You can judge the true tenor of Cantor’s remarks by considering the response from Democrat class-war dinosaur Charles Schumer of New York, who whined that Cantor’s proposals are “like taking one step forward and then two steps back.  The point isn’t to get rid of these loopholes simply to pay for new tax breaks elsewhere. It’s to do it in a way that contributes to the reduction of the debt.”  Democrats are not interested in sacrificing the kind of power they would lose to a reduced and simplified tax code.  The impending financial collapse of the United States government is not going to change their minds.

This all has the feel of a desperate media attempt to crack Republican unity against tax increases by manufacturing division, and hopefully getting them to turn against each other.  It’s likely to backfire, by having the salutary effect of earning congressional Republicans an earful from angry citizens who insist upon their continuing resolve. 

Even if these media insinuations are false, I wouldn’t mind hearing the House and Senate GOP leadership issue some hearty denials… and I really don’t want to hear anyone in Washington jabbering about “revenue” for a while.  Spending cuts first.  Great, big, huge, historic, game-changing, agency-closing, free-market-liberating spending cuts.  We can talk about revenue in a few years, once we’ve enjoyed a bracing reminder of what an unleashed American populace can do.