GOP Not Interest In Raising Taxes On Anyone

President Obama's deficit reduction plan is just a proposal unless Congress acts. Most Republicans don't like what they heard from the president about taxing the wealthy to shrink long-term deficits.

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DAVID WELNA: I'm David Welna at the Capitol. Congressional Republicans clearly don't like what they heard from President Obama about taxing the wealthy to shrink long-term deficits. But possibly because their own stature has sunk so low in public opinion polls, GOP lawmakers have been unusually restrained in critiquing the president's plan. Not one of them spoke against it during a four-and-a-half hour session of the Senate. The chamber's number two Republican, Jon Kyl, sits on the deficit-reduction supercommittee at which the president's plan is aimed.

S: I am conflicted. I'd still like to try to promote an air of congeniality and constructive comment so the committee can achieve its goals, and therefore I'll probably mute the reaction that I otherwise would have to what the president proposed.

WELNA: Nebraska Republican Senator Mike Johanns also tried a diplomatic tone.

S: I want to say something nice. I think it's always good to say something nice, but I'm just so discouraged with the president. And I think it's more politics than anything.

WELNA: Considerably less reticent when asked about the president's plan was the top Republican on the Senate Banking Committee, Alabama's Richard Shelby.

S: Oh, you mean his big tax increase and all that? Absolutely, I have a lot of reaction to it. We've seen this movie before. This, like a son of stimulus, is always more taxes and not enough cuts.

WELNA: Republicans are counting on at least some Democrats joining them in opposing the president's proposed tax hikes on the wealthy. Nebraska Senator Ben Nelson is one of those Democrats who do appear ready to cross the political aisle.

S: We need to do the cutting. And all the talk about raising revenues or raising taxes or getting rid of loopholes in the abstract or getting rid of deductions and stuff like that is not helpful at the moment. We got to get cutting. We got to cut the spending. That's what I hear back home.

WELNA: Other Democrats are unhappy about other things the president proposed. Some don't like him trying to find savings in Medicare, Medicaid and retirement plans for federal workers. Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad says the proposed cuts in crop support for farmers are just too high.

S: Look, agriculture is absolutely prepared to take its fair share of the cuts, but not a disproportionate share. And this is disproportionate.

WELNA: For her part, Democratic Senator Patty Murray of Washington State, who co-chairs the deficit reduction supercommittee, had no complaints about the president's plan. But she stopped well short of endorsing it.

S: We are all working hard on our committee to find a fair and balanced approach and appreciate the president and anybody else who gives us input on what they think that is.

WELNA: You think that that was a fair and balanced approach that he proposed this morning?

MURRAY: I haven't had a chance to look at all the details. I just got off a plane.

WELNA: Still, most congressional Democrats seemed quite happy with the combative tone the president took by threatening to veto any deficit reduction plan that cuts Medicare but spares the wealthiest from paying any more taxes. Congressional expert Jack Pitney of Claremont McKenna College says Mr. Obama is simply writing the latest chapter in a long-running saga.

JACK PITNEY: This is a classic Democratic approach. In fact, when he talks about asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share, he is taking his playbook almost verbatim from statements made by President Clinton during the 1990s.

WELNA: Democrats feel the president has the upper hand in this fight, and they feel public opinion is solidly behind him. New York's Charles Schumer is the Senate Democrats' designated spokesman.

S: Most Americans, the vast majority, including 59 percent of Republicans, believe that high-income millionaires should pay their fair share of taxes, pay at least as much as the middle class. And we're going to make that a very important issue to us, and we'll see if the Republicans block it. And the president's going to go around the country and talk about it.

WELNA: Schumer and other Democrats know the president's deficit reduction plan may be dead on arrival at the Capitol, but they think it does have great potential as a defining issue on the campaign trail. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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