Back in June, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) — who is serving on President Obama’s debt commission — told me it was unlikely that the commission was going to come to an agreement, because the commission’s Republican members were opposing all tax increases. “[They] give some lip service to ‘everything should be on the table,’ then, when it actually comes to what kind of revenue can we raise, are closing that door and taking it off the table,” Schakowsky said.
In October, another commission member, Sen. Judd Gregg (R-NH), echoed Schakowsky’s warning, saying that “there is no chance fellow Republicans on the president’s deficit commission will endorse tax increases.” And during an interview with Bloomberg’s Al Hunt, Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) — a commission member who is also in line to chair the House Ways and Means Committee next year — made Schakowsky look prophetic by saying that tax increases of any sort are indeed “off the table“:
HUNT: Let me get this straight. Would you rule out any — any — net revenue increase as part of this package?
CAMP: I don’t like the idea of tax increases, and the reason I don’t is that we have not demonstrated that we’re serious about reducing spending. There’s been a really dramatic run-up in spending the last couple of years. We need to demonstrate to the American people that we’re serious about reducing spending and if we raise revenue, we’ll never get to the reductions in spending that we need to see to have a more sustainable government, a government that can be supported. [...]
HUNT: So revenue’s off the table for now?
CAMP: I think revenue’s off the table, particularly now, in a recession, and when we haven’t been serious about cutting spending.
Of course, the whole premise of the commission is that it would force Democrats to swallow spending cuts that they oppose and Republicans to stomach tax increases that they oppose. And the proposal put forth by the commission’s co-chairs last week already tilts heavily in the direction of the former, with 75 percent of the overall deficit reduction coming from spending cuts.
As CAP economists Michael Ettlinger and Michael Linden laid out, just trying to get the budget into primary balance by 2015 without any tax increases requires draconian cuts in important programs, including “big cuts to highway funding, cuts to medical research, the Federal Aviation Association, defense, Pell grants and much more.” And at the moment, the United States is one of the least-taxed industrial nations; only Turkey and Mexico are lower-taxed amongst Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries.
But for Camp, any tax increase, even with the deficits that the country faces over the next decade, is a bridge too far. And that doesn’t bode well for the deficit commission coming to anything resembling a consensus.