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Pat Toomey Signals 'Fiscal Cliff' May Push GOP To Accept Tax Increases

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WASHINGTON -- Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) signaled Tuesday that Republican lawmakers may be left with no choice but to accept a deficit reduction deal that includes new revenues as the country approaches the "fiscal cliff."

"It's not clear to me that there may be another way to do it in the future," Toomey said at a Brookings Institution discussion when asked about his party's openness to raising taxes to avoid another fiscal crisis.

In January, nearly $600 billion in spending cuts and tax increases are scheduled to take effect unless Congress can come up with a legislative solution.

"Let me be very clear. I don't believe that adding new revenue in the form of an increase in the total tax burden is either necessary or optimal or economically or fiscally required to solve this problem, because I think it's a problem that arises on the spending side," said Toomey, who served on the 2011 congressional super committee that tried to reach a bipartisan deal on deficit reduction last year. "But we did recognize that it was politically necessary because it was absolutely essential for our friends on the other side," he added, referring to those talks.

Toomey's admission comes amid a growing chorus from top Democrats that they are not afraid to "go over" the fiscal cliff, putting the onus on their GOP colleagues to back a balanced cuts-and-taxes approach before the clock strikes midnight Dec. 31.

"If we can’t get a good deal, a balanced deal that calls on the wealthy to pay their fair share, then I will absolutely continue this debate into 2013,” said Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) at Brookings earlier this month. Murray served as co-chair of the super committee.

On Monday, Toomey squared off with former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean on CNBC's "Squawk Box" about the politics behind the increasingly heated debate over the upcoming sequestration cuts, which were triggered by the super committee's failure to agree on a $1.2 trillion deficit reduction package.

"I think we ought to do it," Dean said. "Let's just go over the fiscal cliff. Everybody's going to bite the bullet. The Republicans are going to hate the taxes, and the Democrats are going to hate some of the cuts, but it's going to have to happen."

At Tuesday's event, Toomey accused Democrats of "quintupling down" on their threat to push the country over the fiscal cliff -- a partisan stand that he described as not a "substantive solution."

Murray responded on the Senate floor to Toomey's Tuesday comments by accusing Republicans of "holding [the middle class] hostage to continue the tax cuts for the rich" and "scheming ways to cut taxes for the wealthiest Americans even more."

At Brookings, Toomey declined to state directly whether his own suggested mix of spending cuts and revenue increases violated Grover Norquist's widely circulated "No New Taxes" pledge, a major impediment to Republican support for any plan that includes raising revenues.

"It depends on your perspective on this. ... [I]f you compare what I proposed to the current law, it's a lower tax burden. If you compare it to the policy we have in place today, it's a higher tax burden," Toomey said.

With a deadline five months away, Toomey acknowledged that the outcome of the fiscal-cliff negotiations during Congress' post-election, lame-duck session would largely rest on political, rather than economic, realities.

"The only guess I can make," he said, "is that the environment will be driven very significantly by how the elections turn out."

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the timing of the fiscal cliff. It arrives at midnight Dec. 31.

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