Super Committee Gets Wonky on Taxes

Posted September 22, 2011 at 2:35pm

The Joint Committee for Deficit Reduction conducted its third public meeting today, just hours before the panel was set to meet again behind closed doors to continue negotiations on a deficit reduction package worth at least $1.2 trillion.

In this morning’s public session, the 12 bipartisan, bicameral lawmakers showered Joint Committee on Taxation Chief of Staff Thomas Barthold with a series of questions regarding taxes and revenue reform, how feasible it is to achieve meaningful reform before the group’s Thanksgiving deadline and about how those changes would affect the long-term debt.

The hearing was cordial and at times dry, with nearly all questions focused on policy rather than on politics. The one notable exception was when Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.) asked Barthold whether “seeking equity in the tax code” amounts to “class warfare.” Republicans have recently charged President Barack Obama with pursuing class warfare because the president has shifted his rhetoric to take a stronger position on increasing tax rates for millionaires and billionaires.

Barthold responded that it was not his place to provide opinions on such matters as a representative of the nonpartisan committee and that it is his job to only provide information to lawmakers so they can make the “best judgments” for their constituents.

In opening statements, super committee Co-Chairman Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) continued to press the Democratic position that the panel must produce a “balanced approach” that includes spending cuts and revenue reform. Obama emphasized that point in a Rose Garden speech Monday, and many Hill Democrats, even if not sold on the details of the president’s plan, have lined up behind the idea that a package should include tax reform if it also contains changes to entitlements such as Medicare and Medicaid.

“As the overwhelming majority of American families, economists, and every serious, bipartisan commission that has examined this issue has agreed, spending cuts alone aren’t going to put Americans back to work or put our budget back in balance,” Murray said. “We have to address both spending and revenue.”

Though Republicans on the panel have, and continue to, express an openness to getting tax reform done, many also acknowledged that they have very little time to do the job right.

Even as the group was meeting, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters at a press conference that the super committee’s job was primarily to reach the $1.5 trillion target set by this August’s Budget Control Act, and “if they go bigger than that, God bless ‘em.”

Super committee Members were slated to meet again Thursday afternoon in private, their second such meeting in two days. Though lawmakers and aides close to the group have been quick to categorize the talks as “productive,” they’ve been reluctant to divulge more details.

Sources close to the committee have said the group will review previously designed budget packages, including recommendations from the president’s fiscal commission, the remaining areas of agreement found in last spring’s bipartisan talks with Vice President Joseph Biden and ideas proposed by the Senate’s bipartisan “gang of six.”

The super committee has not yet released a schedule for future hearings, which need to be posted seven days in advance, according to the group’s standing rules.