U.S. Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., joined dozens of federal lawmakers from both parties on Tuesday in pressing Congress’ special debt reduction committee to consider all options, including higher revenues, and shoot for $4 trillion in savings.
The 40 Republicans and 60 Democrats who signed a letter to the special debt-reduction panel studiously avoided specific proposals, but it seemed to at least crack the door open to the GOP’s potential consideration of tax increases.
“To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table,” according to the letter.
The letter also called on the supercommittee to keep the door open for savings culled from benefit programs like Medicare, a path opposed by many Democrats. In addition, the letter said the committee should aim for $4 trillion in 10-year savings — more than triple the panel’s mandated minimum target of $1.2 trillion.
Bipartisan budget experts have urged the committee to produce at least $4 trillion in savings. They say doing less would not significantly alter the potential long-term financial nightmare the government faces, in which red ink continues to grow faster than the U.S. economy.
At a media conference and in separate interviews Wednesday, Lummis and other Republican participants shied away from expressing an unconditional willingness to accept tax increases as part of a final deal.
Even so, the letter’s bipartisan, conciliatory tone contrasted with the political atmosphere in Washington that has buffeted the supercommittee, which has made little evident headway just three weeks from the deadline for completing its work.
Lummis, a fiscal conservative who has previously campaigned on opposing new taxes, said that while she would prefer to reduce the debt without raising taxes, the supercommittee needs to act decisively now to solve the nation’s mounting debt problem.
“If we’re going to go big, where we’re asking people to produce reforms to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security, you also have to be willing to say that we’ll be willing to consider revenue,” she said. “Because I really believe that this is a unique opportunity to go big, sort of on a once-and-for-all basis.”
Like all but three of the 40 GOP signatories, Lummis has also signed the pledge by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist to oppose tax increases. Lummis said she did so when she was first elected in 2008, but did not sign it last year.
“Grover Norquist is not in my district,” she said. “I represent the state of Wyoming and its people.”
Lummis said she didn’t want to suggest specific ideas to the supercommitee about how to raise revenue, though she said she supports alternatives to raising taxes, such as simplifying the tax code and allowing more oil and gas drilling to increase income from federal mineral royalties.
U.S. Sen. Mike Enzi, R-Wyo., shared Lummis’ view that “everything needs to be on the table” when it comes to debt reduction, spokesman Dan Head said in an email.
Enzi also prefers reforms such as simplifying the federal tax code to tax increases, Head said.
U.S. Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., on the other hand, said in a media release that he doesn’t support any tax hike proposal, as there’s no guarantee that Washington will put the money toward the debt.
“Until Washington is responsible with America’s tax dollars, we shouldn’t ask for more from hardworking Americans,” Barrasso said.
The signers comprised about 1 in 6 House Republicans and nearly a third of its Democrats — hardly the kind of numbers that typically force difficult decisions in Washington. Even so, participants said they believed many other lawmakers also supported a large package with savings from both spending cuts and new revenues, and expressed hope that a letter signed by 100 of the House’s 435 members would have clout.
The list of signers included many moderates from both parties. But it also included conservatives such as presidential candidate Ron Paul, R-Texas; No. 2 House Democratic leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland; and liberals such as U.S. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus.
The letter was organized by U.S. Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho.
Former U.S. Sen. Alan Simpson, R-Wyo., who served as co-chairman of President Obama’s debt commission, said Wednesday that Lummis should be commended for urging that all options be looked at to reduce the debt.
“This country needs compromise; it needs good people of good faith, good will, and she’s always been that,” said Simpson, who was in Casper for a book signing of his new biography.
Lummis probably has been reluctant to step forward because of the pressure in the U.S. House on Republicans, he said.
Revenue is possible without a “tax increase,” a phrase that’s become a polarizing term popular in Washington, he said.
“You invent flash words,” Simpson said, “and then your brain disappears in the vapors.”