Obama and Boehner holding firm on tax increases, but some in Congress call for compromise

Chris Moody
Political Reporter
The Ticket

WASHINGTON—While President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner negotiate a deal to avoid a series of automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to begin next year, both camps continue to publicly tangle over whether to increase taxes on the wealthy.

But within Boehner's caucus, there is a small group of Republicans who say they are open to raising tax rates, but only for a price.

"We should have everything on the table, and we should discuss it," said Michael Mahaffey, a spokesman for Florida Republican Rep. Tom Rooney. Rooney has expressed a willingness to let taxes go up in return for a massive restructuring of the way the federal government pays for Social Security and Medicare. "If we can get a big deal that includes real entitlement reform, then we should consider ways to balance that with more revenue," Mahaffey continued.

For Rooney, the specific language outlining the entitlement overhaul would need to be written into the bill and not just promised as a future goal. It also must be immediate.

Ohio Republican Rep. Steve LaTourette, an outgoing member who is also open to tax increases as part of a grand bargain, said he won't budge for less than $4 trillion to $6 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

There are only a handful of other Republican members who have been willing to publicly say they agree.

LaTourette and Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho co-signed a letter with Democratic Reps. Heath Shuler of North Carolina and Jim Cooper of Tennessee that they plan to send to House and Senate leaders urging them not to keep anything off-limits, even tax increases.

"To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the the table," the bipartisan House members write in the letter. They intend to gather more signatures before sending it to congressional leaders.

Still, the Compromise Club remains small. Oklahoma Republican Rep. Tom Cole, who has been a ubiquitous face on cable news of late, was one of the most recent to express an openness to compromise on tax rates.

This week, Democratic House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner reiterated that there will be no agreement without raising income tax rates on households earning more than $250,000 annually. Boehner has remained equally steadfast in his unwillingness to agree to anything that raises those rates, offering a plan to raise revenue by eliminating loopholes and deductions within the tax code instead.

Many Democrats continue to oppose any measure that would alter the entitlement reforms, and there remains staunch opposition to any tax increases among Republicans. As of this week, talks between Obama and Boehner appear to remain at a standstill.

This article has been updated since publication.