Boehner Coy on Prospect of New Taxes

House Speaker John Boehner today called the Democrats’ proposal for $1.3 trillion in new taxes unreasonable, but he seemed to leave a window cracked open to allow for at least some new revenue as part of an eventual deal to reduce the deficit.

“It’s going to be very hard, but I do think it’s time for everybody to get serious about this,” Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters. “I expect that it’s going to be very difficult to get to an outcome, but I am committed to getting to an outcome.”

Boehner’s comments came as the so-called super committee approaches its deadline on finding a budget compromise and Democrats put forward a proposal this week to raise $1.3 trillion in new tax revenue as part of a $3 trillion deficit reduction package. Republicans rejected the Democratic proposal outright and countered with their own $2.2 trillion offer that’s reportedly composed exclusively through spending cuts, without any new tax revenues. Democrats quickly rejected the GOP offer as unbalanced.

Reports have also surfaced that Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid met recently to discuss the remaining potential for a big deal.

Today, the speaker was asked whether his party is willing to accept new revenues or tax reforms in a  trade off for reforms to entitlement programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security.

“The conversation all year — my conversation with the president, my conversation with Senate leaders this summer, conversations now — have kind of revolved around the same type of structure,” Boehner said without tipping his hand. “I’m not surprised that the structure’s still being talked about.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi was also asked today whether she could support a trade off of some cuts to entitlements as long as there is a significant ratio of revenue increases, but she says she will not commit to anything until the committee recommends its proposal to the full Congress.

“It’s no use asking me about specific things until we see the whole package,” Pelosi, D-Calif., said. “I’m not making any judgment about any package until I see the fuller package that it is a part of.”

During Boehner’s private negotiations with President Obama last summer over the so-called Grand Bargain, the speaker and president had come together around about $800 billion in new revenues, but Boehner walked out on negotiations when the president attempted to increase the ante by another $400 billion in new taxes.

Still, Boehner insisted today that in order to succeed, the super committee will need to better address the drivers of the country’s debt: Entitlements.

“When you look at what’s yet to be done by the super committee, almost all of that’s going to fall in the area, I think, of mandatory spending, which is more than two-thirds of the budget, and it’s time for us to do our work there,” Boehner said.  “When you look at the Medicaid number that I read about, some $50 billion worth of changes, let’s understand:  Over the next 10 years, we’re going to spend $10 trillion on Medicaid.  I just think there’s a lot more room there to help find common ground, and so while I hope the conversations will continue it’s my commitment to try to get to an outcome.”

Pelosi once again urged the committee to strike “an agreement that is big, is bold and is balanced,” and she expressed a vote of confidence for the three House Democrats negotiating on behalf of her caucus.

“It’s only four weeks from yesterday that the deadline of Nov. 23 must be met,” Pelosi said.

 ”One senior congressional Democratic aide, who requested not to be identified, said, ”Democrats came to the table with an offer that had serious skin in the game for both parties” and dismissed the Republican proposal as “a joke,” noting that the GOP would rather abide by a pledge to vote against tax increases than address the critical problems facing the economy.

“Republicans are choosing a pinky swear with [Americans for Tax Reform's] Grover Norquist over real solutions the American people need to create jobs and improve our economy,” the source said. “Rather than offering real solutions, Republicans are just doing more of the same posturing they do every time they walk away from efforts to constructively tackle this crisis.”

Wednesday, during testimony before the super committee, Doug Elmendorf, the director of the Congressional Budget office warned the 12-member committee that the deadline “is not very far away” and the CBO will need a few weeks to refine the legislative language and produce a cost estimate. 

Boehner, who is serving in his 11 th term in the House, praised the 12-member panel for “taking on as big a task as I’ve seen since I’ve been here” and he urged them to finish the task. 

“It’s important for the super committee to meet its goal,” Boehner said. “I want to pat the members on the back because they really all have really worked very hard, but now we’re into the real tough time and it’s going to take a lot more work.”

Pelosi and Boehner both agreed that failure to meet the committee’s mandate is not an option with the threat of the sequestration cuts lurking in the crease.

“It’s a missed opportunity — it’s even worse than that — if we do not do this,” Pelosi said. “We all know what we believe, and we’re going to be true to our beliefs, but in terms of how we get there, if there’s a new way of thinking about proposals that are put on the table, bring them on.”