WASHINGTON -- A bipartisan group of lawmakers suggested Republicans would be willing to raise certain taxes to shrink the deficit, as long as the debt-cutting super committee "goes big" and seeks a package of savings worth at least $4 trillion.
The committee, formally known as the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, is tasked with reporting out at least $1.2 trillion in debt reduction measures by next week, but it seems hopelessly deadlocked over the issue of raising revenue through tax increases.
The lead Republican on the committee, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), has suggested the GOP would be willing to raise $300 billion in revenue through tax reform, which would mean the rest of the savings would have to come from spending cuts and programs like Social Security.
But at a press conference with dozens of lawmakers from both parties and chambers Wednesday, legislators who have already signed a letter urging the committee to "go big" suggested more revenue should come into the equation -- even though many Republicans have signed pledges against raising taxes and 33 senators have written a letter adamantly opposing tax hikes.
"This is about more than money," said Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. "It's about whether the president and the Congress can competently govern, about whether we can face up to the biggest problem facing our country and, working together, can we solve that problem."
"And of course we can," Alexander said. "We now have Republicans who've put revenues on the table. We have Democrats on the super committee who've put entitlements on the table. Both need to put more on the table and get a result, and we're here to support them."
While Alexander's comments fly in the face of the anti-tax orthodoxy that Republicans back, members of the "Go Big" coalition said they may just have to get over it.
"Each of us have stated our preference of what we would do if we were doing it ourselves," said Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). "The Republicans would have said that they don't believe raising taxes right now is the right way to go. I come from that perspective."
"What we are here today, however, to say is that we are ready to make compromises and build the solutions that can help bring all the parties together," Crapo continued, offering one of the first statements from a Republican lawmaker during the longstanding debt debate that suggested tax increases could gain GOP support.
But in order to reach such a compromise, the coalition argued that the cuts included in the super committee's set of recommendations have to total $4 trillion or more, a figure that would require significant sacrifices by Democrats, likely including substantial Medicare and Social Security cuts.
"If we go big, it actually becomes easier," Crapo said. "The fact that you may have members standing here who have different ideas about how far they personally would like to go on taxes and how far they would personally like to go in entitlement reform does not mean that they are not ready to stand here and make the kinds of decisions that will help us as a nation."
Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) emphasized the need for the super committee to be ambitious.
"Going bigger is better in terms of the impact it will have and says to the world, 'We get it,'" said Durbin.
"And going bigger is easier politically," he added. "It doesn't sound right, does it? It sounds counterintuitive. When you start putting enough on the table that both political parties, House and Senate realize that this is historic, it is worth the political risk."
That political risk is substantial. Democrats have been running on a platform that includes attacking the GOP for seeking major cuts to Social Security and Medicare. Agreeing to such cuts would undermine that argument. Republicans, meanwhile, would risk a backlash from the Tea Party and other anti-tax purists if they back away from their revenue pledges.
But with the super committee still looking deadlocked, the "Go Big" coalition aimed to offer some political encouragement, and cover.
"Super committee, we got your back," Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said. "We support you."
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This story was updated to include Alexander's comments.