Jeb Bush OK with tax hike in debt deal

Jeb Bush, the former Florida governor, said Friday that he could back a broad deficit plan that increased taxes, a stance that puts him at odds with other prominent Republicans.

Bush told a House panel he could get behind a plan that combined 10 dollars in spending cuts for every dollar of new revenue, and also noted that he did not sign the anti-tax pledge administered by Grover Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform when he ran for governor in the Sunshine State.

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“If you could bring to me a majority of people to say that we’re going to have 10 dollars of spending cuts for one dollar of revenue enhancement – put me in coach,” Bush told the House Budget Committee. “That would be wonderful. Let’s see it. That’d be spectacular.”

But at the same time, the former Florida governor – who many Republicans have wanted to run for president, and also declared Friday he wouldn’t be presumptive nominee Mitt Romney’s running mate – acknowledged that his views differed from others in his party.

For instance, Romney and every other GOP presidential candidate at a debate last year rejected the same theoretical 10-to-one package that Bush embraced on Friday.

“This will prove I’m not running for anything,” Bush said.

In fact, Bush’s comments did prompt some pushback from Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the chairman of the Budget panel. Norquist also later told The Hill that the former governor’s comments suggested that Bush, who left Florida’s governor’s mansion more than five years ago, was not keeping a close eye on the tax debate in Washington.

Democrats and Republicans have been battling for months over how to rein in deficits, with Democrats saying that the GOP’s refusal to allow tax increases on the wealthiest taxpayers and oil-and-gas companies is standing in the way of a broad deal.

But Republicans have countered that the federal government’s problem is that it spends too much. Republicans have also asserted, as Ryan hinted at on Friday, that policymakers implemented the tax increases from past deficit deals while not following through on the spending restraint.

“The problem is the 10 never materializes,” Ryan said after Bush said he could support a revenue-increasing deficit deal.

Norquist also has criticized deficit deals crafted in 1982 and 1990 – the latter agreed to by then-President George H.W. Bush, Jeb’s father – for failing to deliver on the spending side.

“He just clearly wasn’t prepared,” Norquist said about Bush’s answer. “He’s not up to speed on what’s happening on tax policy in Washington, D.C.”

Bush also said in his Friday appearance that he would prefer that revenues raised from eliminating tax preferences be used to lower tax rates, the sort of revenue-neutral tax reform favored by many GOP lawmakers and Norquist’s ATR.

But while noting he cut taxes in Florida, Bush also pooh-poohed ATR’s Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which has been signed by the vast majority of Republicans on Capitol Hill.

“I don't believe you outsource your principles and convictions to people,” Bush said. “I respect Grover's political involvement. He has every right to do it, but I never signed any pledge.”

Norquist, responding to that comment, said that ATR’s pledge was to a politician’s voters, not him or his organization.

The anti-tax activist also indicated the statement illustrated that Bush wasn’t closely watching the back-and-forth on taxes.

Democrats like Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), in pushing Republicans to give on revenues, have accused the GOP of being beholden to Norquist and said the pledge hamstrings deficit negotiations.

At the same time, some GOP lawmakers have said they no longer feel bound by the pledge, which some of them signed years ago.

“It was not his most articulate moment,” Norquist said about Bush’s appearance, before adding: “He answered the question as if reading out of Harry Reid’s playbook.”

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