It is one thing to hear Gregg talk about tax hikes. He's in his final term in the Senate and, perhaps, a bit less encumbered than a Republican who must face the voters in years to come.
It is another thing entirely to hear the top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell -- who is accountable to all his members and will help set the Republican agenda in years to come -- say the same thing.
"I think that we have a serious problem here because we spend too much. I think we ought to concentrate on the spending side," said McConnell. But then he referenced Bowle's ratio.
"I've in fact been encouraged by the comments of Erskine Bowles, who's one of the chairmen of the president's Deficit Reduction Commission, a Democrat, who's saying that he thinks two-thirds or three-fourths of the problem is a spending problem. So that's where we ought to -- That's where we ought to start."
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart later clarified that McConnell was not endorsing Bowles' ratio, but pointing out that the commission chairman, a Democrat, thinks the onus should be on cuts rather than tax hikes.
Most Republicans on Capitol Hill have taken a hard pledge not to ever raise taxes. Sponsored by Americans for Tax Reform, the pledge counts the vast majority of Republican lawmakers -- 33 Senators (including a Democrat, Ben Nelson) and 173 House members (including four Democrats).
Leaders from both parties have promised that if 14 of the 18 debt commission members can agree on a debt reduction proposal, Congressional leaders have promised to seek an up or down vote on it in December.
Any tax hikes will have vocal opposition.
"If the deficit reduction commission comes up with a combo approach, tax hikes and spending cuts, how would I reel about that? Not good." Said Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican widely thought to be eyeing a run for the Presidency in 2012. "I don't think the argument could credibly made that the United States of America is undertaxed compared to our competitors," he said at a meeting with reporters Monday in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor.
Pawlenty suggested that modernizing Medicare to make it focus more on results than providing services would cut down on costs. If Democrats experience in enacting health care reform is any guide, though, Medicare reform would not be easy. He also suggested giving younger workers the option of taking control of their own social security contributions.
Transitioning Social Security from a plan with defined, monthly checks to seniors into a 401k-style plan has many fans on the right, but is often demonized on the left as privatization. A plan to transition social security was pursued by President George W. Bush in 2005 to no avail.
A far more radical plan has been proposed by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin. He would be able to reduce the debt, according to the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, but it would remake America in the process. He would replace Medicare with a voucher system and transition Social Security to a defined contribution system. It would also eliminate most corporate taxes and do away with tax exemptions for employer-sponsored health insurance and it would instead institute an 8.5 percent consumption tax.