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Kyl, Kerry point to supercommittee divide on taxes

Senators on the deficit-cutting supercommittee confirmed Sunday that they remain miles apart on the issue of taxes three days before their deadline to strike a $1.5 trillion deal.

In a tense side-by-side appearance on NBC's Meet the Press, Sens. Jon Kyl (R-Arizona) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) blamed the other party's intransigence for the panel's looming failure. Kerry said the supercommittee could have a deal done in as little as two hours, if only Republicans gave up on their insistence to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

"We are not a tax-cutting committee," Kerry said. "We're a deficit-reduction committee."

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The other obstacle, Kerry said, is that Republican leaders have made the calculation that they could well win the presidency and the Senate next year, and will have the opportunity to craft their own deal then.

Kyl meanwhile touted Republicans' proposal to raise about $300 billion by lowering income tax rates and eliminate deductions as a "breakthrough" that Democrats never matched in serious entitlement cuts. He said the supercommittee was created to find entitlement cuts to match last summer's increase in the debt ceiling, not raise revenues.

"The only real breakthrough here… was the Republican offer to actually increase the amount of revenue through (reforming) the tax code, which would largely fall on the upper two brackets of tax payers," Kyl said. "This had never been proposed by Republicans before because it would mean that people in the upper brackets - whatever their tax rate was - would be paying more taxes because their loopholes, the deductions and credits that they take advantage of, would no longer (exist)."

That tax proposal was not expected to survive the Republican-controlled House.

Kerry scoffed at the proposal, saying it doesn't make up for the lost revenue from extending the Bush tax cuts by a long shot. He said Democrats, by contrast, have "put every single sacred cow on the table" - including means-testing Medicare so richer seniors would pay more for their healthcare.

Kerry also pushed back against reports that President Obama was not engaged in the process. He said it was Republicans who asked that Obama stay out of it to avoid politicizing the process even further.

He predicted Congress, not the president, would bear the brunt of the inevitable public criticism if the supercommittee fails to reach a deal.

"This came out of Congress," Kerry said. "Congress was supposed to do this."