WASHINGTON -- Republicans may publicly trash the idea of including new revenues in a deal to raise the U.S. debt ceiling, but they say otherwise in private, Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) said Monday.
During remarks in the Senate, Landrieu said she knows some people are nervous about the prospect of Congress devolving into partisan fights when it comes time to raise the debt limit late this year or early next year. When Congress took on the issue in 2011, protracted fights nearly drove the U.S. to the brink of default and resulted in the nation's credit rating being downgraded for the first time.
Last week, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reignited fears of a replay when he said he will "insist" on tying trillions in spending cuts to the next debt ceiling hike. The speaker later told President Barack Obama in a private meeting that the idea of including new revenues in the mix, something demanded by Democrats, is not an option. Boehner said debate should start now.
Landrieu called Republicans "adamant and wrong and hardheaded and stubborn" for refusing to accept revenues as part of a broader deficit reduction plan. Democrats have pushed for raising taxes on the wealthy and protecting entitlement programs in exchange for agreeing to deep spending cuts. But, for all their tough talk, Landrieu said some Republicans have said behind closed doors they'd support increased revenues.
"I've heard [GOP leaders] say it in private," Landrieu said. "I've been in meetings when they've said it. But not one has come to this floor to say, 'We're willing to put revenues on the table so that we can match some cuts and move this country forward.'"
Don Stewart, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), told The Huffington Post he is "not privy" to the conversations Landrieu has had. He pointed to a deficit reduction plan put forward by Republicans last fall that would have raised $300 billion in revenues by limiting tax breaks in return for lower income tax rates. Democrats didn't support it, however.
That was "a significant revenue package," Stewart said. "Dems declined."
A spokesman for Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) declined to weigh in on Landrieu's comments. He pointed to last fall's GOP proposal as proof that Republicans haven't been hardline about including new revenues.
Democrats rejected that plan because they said the tax hikes would have been overshadowed by major new tax cuts for the nation's wealthiest households, including a reduction in the top income tax rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. Republicans refused to bump up the level of revenues.
"They're anxious to promote a certain concept with all of you," Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) said at the time. "I'll be very clear that whatever they put there doesn’t get the job done."
It remains to be seen whether Republicans are prepared to line up behind Boehner in another risky fight on the debt ceiling. House Republicans, particularly freshmen who rode into Congress with tea party support, are more inclined to join the speaker, given how they want to position themselves ahead of elections. Senate Republicans have less incentive to lay out a list of demands, and some have signaled support for Boehner's demands.
McConnell has appeared cool to Boehner's push for a fight ahead of elections. In fact, on Sunday, he said the debate doesn't need to happen until the end of the year."The timing will be determined by the president," McConnell said on "Face the Nation." "They determine when to request of us that we raise the debt ceiling. We assume that will happen at the end of the year, early next year."