GOP senators seek to divide and conquer deficit supercommittee

Sens. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and Rob Portman (Ohio), Republican members of the deficit-reduction supercommittee, are trying to attract Democrats off the special panel to support their plan to restructure the tax code.

Toomey and Portman met with Democratic and Republican members of the Gang of Eight on Wednesday to present their plan to reduce the deficit, according to Senate sources. The ambitious proposal would raise about $300 billion in new net tax revenues and lower marginal income tax rates across the board.

Toomey and Portman hope to build momentum for their proposal, which they believe could serve as the basis for a supercommittee deal. The panel faces a Nov. 23 deadline to submit a plan for at least $1.2 trillion in deficit cuts. 

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The original Gang of Six — an informal bipartisan group committed to a major deficit-reduction deal — included Sens. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) and Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Sens. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) and Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) later joined the group to make it the Gang of Eight.

Not all members of the Gang could attend the last-minute meeting with Toomey and Portman.

The two Republicans appear to be trying to build bipartisan support for their proposal by sharing it outside the narrow confines of the supercommittee. But some Democrats suspect they could be trying to drive a wedge between the Democratic members of the Gang of Six and the supercommittee.

Democratic supercommittee members this week firmly rejected Toomey’s plan as lacking credibility.


A person familiar with supercommittee negotiations said Thursday evening that those talks had hit an “impasse.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday called it a “phony” plan because it lacked details about how Republicans would raise new tax revenue while slashing income tax rates.

But Durbin, the Senate Democratic Whip, offered some encouragement, saying Wednesday that the fact that Republicans were talking about a net increase in taxes was a “breakthrough." 

Durbin said he does not support Toomey’s plan but nevertheless said putting revenues on the table was “an important step forward.”

Durbin served for months on the Simpson-Bowles fiscal commission and later the Gang of Six in an effort to build a significant deficit-reduction package.

Toomey and Portman hope that other Democrats who are committed to a major deficit-reduction deal might be interested in the latest offer from GOP members of the supercommittee.

Aides to Toomey and Portman declined to comment.

Sen. Patty Murray (Was.), the Democratic co-chairwoman of the supercommittee, dismissed the GOP’s latest proposal this week, telling reporters she has “yet to see a real, credible plan that raises revenue in a significant way to bring us to a fair, balanced proposal”, according to The Washington Post.

Republicans think other Democrats might be persuaded to support it, however.

“I do,” said Coburn. “It’s a big breakthrough, like Dick Durbin said.”

Durbin says Republicans are taking his comments out of context.

“I believe the fact that Republicans have mentioned the word 'revenue' is a breakthrough. Now, I have not endorsed their proposal, nor do I think it’s the endgame by any means. But the fact that they have put revenues on the table is an important step forward,” Durbin told Reuters.

A senior Democratic aide expressed skepticism that any Democratic senators would voice support for the Toomey plan.

The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank, said the proposal “raises grave concerns” and adds “little balance.”

“The proposal seems designed to make only a modest revenue contribution toward deficit reduction and then to take revenues off the table for the larger rounds of deficit reduction that must follow,” the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities wrote in an analysis.