Van Hollen: Deficit Panel Acting In Good Faith
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
This ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.
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And I'm Guy Raz.
Time is running out for the congressional supercommittee. The 12-member bipartisan group is struggling to come up with a plan to cut the nation's deficit by more than a trillion dollars. The latest effort at a compromise comes from one Republican member of the supercommittee, Senator Pat Toomey. His plan to overhaul the tax code would allow for a nearly $300 billion revenue increase.
BLOCK: For a sense of how that's playing with Democrats, I spoke earlier today with another member of the supercommittee, House Democrat Chris Van Hollen of Maryland.
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS VAN HOLLEN: What that plan would do is lock in about 500 billion in tax cuts to the very high-income earners in this country. And they would also ask, at the same time, that we drop the top rate down to 28 percent. That is not a fair and balanced approach, nor does their plan do anything in the area of jobs and getting the economy moving again. So, it's very important that we continue this conversation so that we really can achieve a balanced approach to the deficit and a plan that does something for jobs.
BLOCK: And is that an absolute position on the Democrat's side, a line in the sand, really, that refusal to extend permanently the Bush tax cuts for the highest level earners?
HOLLEN: Well, we have put forward a lot of tax reform ideas. But the key is that tax reform not shift the burden onto middle-income taxpayers. I mean, I don't think anybody should want to support a plan that ends up with middle income taxpayers paying a higher share of the overall tax burden than folks at the very top. That does not make sense.
BLOCK: The idea is that you're supposed to come up with $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction. Would one option - maybe a plan B be you would end up agreeing on something less than $1.2 trillion, leave the rest to the automatic, across-the-board cuts or sequestration, to lessen the blow maybe to, say, to defense?
HOLLEN: Well, you could consider doing something like that to lessen the blow to both defense and the non-defense discretionary budget that includes things like the National Institutes of Health, food safety programs, the FBI, that sort of thing. But I think the great majority of us would like to at least hit the 1.2, $1.5 trillion level. Most of us had wanted to do and still have ideas for how you could do the larger agreement. It ain't over till it's over and we're going to be working overtime to try and reach an agreement.
BLOCK: If you don't reach an agreement, there is talk that maybe Congress would walk back from the so-called trigger mechanism, would vote to bypass the automatic cuts to start in 2013. Is that a real possibility, do you think? And if it is, should President Obama threaten a veto?
HOLLEN: Well, people who talk about doing that are not serious about the deficit. That's the bottom line. Because if you were to do that, you would automatically increase the deficit of the United States by $1.2 trillion in a single vote. That would send a terrible message to the markets and a terrible signal around the world. We have to face these choices now. That's the whole point. And trying to undo the sequester is a total shirking of responsibility.
BLOCK: How would you describe the tone of these negotiations?
HOLLEN: The tone has always been civil and cordial. And I do believe that all 12 members came to the negotiating table in good faith. And I think people continue to want to try to find a way to bridge these differences.
BLOCK: You know, I think most people might assume that the 12 of you are actually sitting down at the negotiating table together. That's not happening. You're meeting separately, Democrats and Republicans. Is there any plan for the 12 of you to actually be in the same room at the same time?
HOLLEN: Well, the 12 of us have had a number of sessions, negotiations.
BLOCK: But not lately.
HOLLEN: But recently, what we've been doing is sort of engaging in shuttle diplomacy to see if there are ways to bridge the differences between the parties. And that's why it was disconcerting the other day to hear the Republican co-chair say that they were no longer interested in trying to bridge the differences, that they were going to stick with their position and draw a line in the sand. Now, I hope that is changing.
BLOCK: Is there a plan for the 12 of you to actually be in the same room, around the same table at the same time?
HOLLEN: Well, that will depend on whether and how negotiations go forward in the next couple days.
BLOCK: Congressman Van Hollen, thanks very much.
HOLLEN: Thank you.
BLOCK: That's Congressman Chris Van Hollen of Maryland. He's one of six Democrats on the congressional supercommittee. We also reached out to all six of its Republican members for an interview. Those efforts have been unsuccessful so far.
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