Lawmakers confident on deficit deal but differ on the details

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Democrats “finally accept” that “Republicans are willing to put revenues on the table.” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said Democrats “finally accept” that “Republicans are willing to put revenues on the table.” Susan Walsh/AP file photo

Lawmakers from both parties said on Sunday that Republicans’ willingness to accept new tax revenue from the elimination of some tax deductions could form the basis for an agreement to avert the so-called "fiscal cliff" of budget cuts and tax increases scheduled for January.

But lawmakers differed on the necessary components and even the timing of such an agreement.

“There is a basis for deal,” Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said on Fox News Sunday. Corker said Democrats “finally accept” that “Republicans are willing to put revenues on the table.”

But Corker said Republicans in exchange will demand cuts to entitlement spending.

President Obama has said he will veto any legislation extending tax cuts for people who earn more than $250,000 in household income a year. Republicans are hoping he will blink on that position and accept a deal that cuts tax deductions while reducing rates, a solution some Democrats say is insufficient to cut the deficit without hammering the middle class.

Obama appears to have leverage after his reelectoin, causing many on both sides of the aisle to argue Democrats have the upper hand to force their preferred solution. “I think we’re going to an Obama-type budget deal,” said the Weekly Standard’s William Kristol. “Elections have consequences.”

On Sunday, top Democrats stopped short of a flat refusal to consider a deal based on new revenue from sources other than increasing tax rates, but argued against that position.

“The starting point should be going back to rates as they existed under President Bill Clinton,” said House Budget Chairman Chris Van Hollen, D-Md.

Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad, D-N.D., said he believed a deal can be reached during the lame duck session. But Conrad suggested a partial solution under which lawmakers agree to a down payment on the deficit; task committees of jurisdiction with finding new cuts; and impose a “backstop” of deeper reductions later if the panels don’t produce an agreement. That is an approach worked on by the “Gang of Eight” senators, including Conrad, who are drafting a plan based on the conclusions of the Simpson-Bowles Commission commissioned in 2010 by the president to address fiscal issues.

“You can’t deal with every detail in a few weeks,” Conrad said.

Conrad , who is retiring after the lame-duck session, said better-designed cuts than those scheduled for implementation would create a more effective backstop.

Corker argued that “it would be a travesty for our country if the reason we don’t go over the cliff is we kick the can down the road.”

Corker on Friday faulted the Gang of Eight. The senator said he had shelved his own deficit plan so that talks between President Obama and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, take precedence.

“Now is not the time for any of us, Republicans, Democrats, groups or gangs, to be publicly promoting our own plans,” Corker said in a statement.

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