Why GOP Wouldn't Accept 'Grand Bargain'

House Speaker John Boehner has bowed out of the so-called "grand bargain" bipartisan debt-reduction deal. Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, talks to Steve Inskeep about what the GOP is looking for during deficit-reduction talks.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Let's talk next with Republican Congressman Dave Camp of Michigan.�He's chairman of the House Ways and Means committee, the powerful committee that writes tax law. He's in our studios.

Congressman, welcome.

Representative DAVE CAMP (Republican, Michigan): Well, good morning. Great to be with you.

INSKEEP: Glad you're here. Glad you're here.

The perception from the outside is that Speaker Boehner wants to do a big deal with the president but that his own caucus is holding him back. Is that correct?

Rep. CAMP: Well, I think the big deal includes, obviously, raising the debt limit and significant spending cuts. That's the one for one that I think we've all been looking at. And what we're interested in is tax reform, not tax increases, because we do need to get our economy growing again. And the tax increases really won't do that because those will fall mainly on small business owners and others when we need to have the economy growing.

Unemployment's at 9.2 percent now, longer at this level than in the Great Depression. So raising taxes really isn't the way to growth. But if we can get our deficit under control and have tax reform that's the direction we need to go in.

INSKEEP: Tax reform meaning you could change the tax code - that's something you would agree with - in a way that brings in more tax revenue over time, which is what the president says is needed.

Rep. CAMP: Yes. And you bring in the revenue through growth, not through a one-off tax increase or cherry picking a provision here or there. You do it through actually a stronger growing economy. That's what tax reform does.

And the model we're looking at is lower rates with fewer exceptions. Over the last 10 years there've been almost 5,000 changes to the tax code. It is very complex. It is out of step with where the rest of the world is.

We're not competitive in terms of trying to do business around the world. And it's very, very complicated now. So what we really to do is simplify lower rates and close off some of these special provisions.

INSKEEP: But is it correct that speaker Boehner would like to do a deal with the president, granting that some compromise would be needed, but that members of his caucus are refusing to compromise?

Rep. CAMP: Well, I think the speaker is moving in the right direction. In fact, I admire what he's trying to do. He is trying to find a way to get out from under this very difficult problem. And that is, for the last 50 years, we've been spending more than we've had. And, frankly, the money is already spent. So we all know the debt limit has to increase. But that's the big give on our part, frankly.

In our conference, people - and people, when I go home and talk to people in my district, they don't want the debt limit increased. They want to get a handle on spending. They want spending to be reduced. And they see if the debt limit goes up, they lose that very important piece.

So what the speaker is trying to do is bring in spending reductions and fundamental tax reform. And if we can get our economy growing again that will help address our debt and deficit problems.

INSKEEP: You know, there is obviously that the...

Rep. CAMP: But more importantly create jobs.

INSKEEP: You know, there's obviously the debate between conservatives and liberals here. But what interested me most is the debate between conservatives and conservatives. Some days ago, David Brooks, of The New York Times, wrote -and I'll just read a quote for you here: If the Republican Party were a normal party - his words it would take advantage of this amazing moment. It is being offered the deal of the century, trillions of dollars in spending cuts in exchange for a few hundred billion dollars of revenue increases.

Why is that not a good deal?

Rep. CAMP: Well, actually what the president is proposing is more than a trillion dollars in tax increases. So this is not just some small provision here or there that's been changed. He's asking for a trillion dollars in more revenue...

INSKEEP: That's including letting the tax cuts for the wealthy go on to the...

Rep. CAMP: Well, he's demanding...

INSKEEP: ...rates in 2012.

Rep. CAMP: Yeah, and that I think is a huge problem. But what you don't want to do is just change one or two tax provisions to get some money. Because what we really need is fundamental tax reform. That would make it getting to actually a more modern, a better tax code harder to do and we do need to do that.

INSKEEP: But why aren't the terms, as laid out by Brooks, something that's worth talking about? The speakers statement over the weekend was cant even consider this, can't do it.

Rep. CAMP: Well, what Brooks is suggesting isn't really on the table, which is because the president is proposing a trillion dollars in tax increases...

INSKEEP: So if it was a few hundred billion dollars in tax rate increases, would that be okay?

Rep. CAMP: No, because then you don't get to the fundamental tax reform. What we really need to do is find - and so what the speaker was talking about was eventually getting to that. But the problem was, was that it was immediate tax increases with the promise of tax reform in the future. And that was an unacceptable proposal.

INSKEEP: Congressman, we've just got a few seconds left, but I want to read you another quote from another Republican, Steve Bell, former staff director of the Senate Budget Committee. Worked for Pete Domenici, he's a Republican, described himself as a conservative, knowledgeable on budget issues.

He says, quote, "I am astonished that federal politicians who must know what this will mean to their districts" - meaning default - "are still saying that if they don't get exactly what they want, it's okay what happens to their districts. They're not being conservative. They're almost being theological."

In a few seconds, are some of your colleagues disregarding the very real danger of default on federal debts here?

Rep. CAMP: No, I think what they're saying is we need to have not only the significant spending cuts in order to raise the debt limit. But we really want to move forward on how do we grow the economy, how to create jobs. Obviously the administration has not had a very good track record on job creation. And we think that fundamental tax reform is a way to help get there.

INSKEEP: Congressman, thanks very much.

Rep. CAMP: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Dave Camp is the Republican chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. He speaks with us in the midst of this week, in which Republicans and Democrats are negotiating over raising the debt limit.

You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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