On Tuesday, Rep. Steve LaTourette (R-Ohio) became the latest moderate Republican casualty on Capitol Hill, citing the partisan deadlock for his decision to retire. "The current atmosphere — it's a little bit like an alcoholic in my mind. I think the place has to hit bottom before they realize they have a problem and begin to fix it," he said at a Thursday news conference, which one of his House colleagues jokingly called a "wake."
Standing in the broiling August heat outside the Capitol dome, LaTourette was joined by a dwindling contingent of House moderates who fault Republicans for refusing to bargain on tax revenue. "The art of a deal isn't drawing a line in the sand, and saying, if you cross it, I'm taking my ball and going home," said the nine-term Ohio Republican.
But even these few remaining GOP moderates voted with the rest of the party to extend all of the Bush tax cuts for another year on Wednesday — a day after LaTourette announced his decision to retire. In fact, only a single House Republican joined Democrats to vote against it. Why not try to make good on their promise to compromise on taxes, helping to increase government revenue and reduce the deficit in the process?
According to LaTourette, the only time to make those kinds of bargains is as part of a grand bargain on the fiscal cliff and the deficit. "It's got to be part of the big deal. You can't cherry pick here and cherry pick there," he said. Instead, LaTourette — joined by Reps. Bob Dold (R-Ill.), Charlie Bass (R-NH) and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.), among other remaining moderates — is making a last-ditch push to pass a deficit-reduction plan modeled on Bowles-Simpson before he leaves office for good
The House overwhelmingly rejected a Bowles-Simpson-like plan in the spring, which only attracted 38 votes. But LaTourette insists that timing of the bill — which will be introduced Nov. 7 — will give it more legs. "The pressure of the election will be over," LaTourette explained. The bill will also include some more incentives for Republicans by incorporating additional cuts to Medicare on top of the changes in Bowles-Simpson. Possible reforms could include raising the qualifying age and increasing costs for the program's wealthiest beneficiaries, LaTourette said.
Within such a framework, LaTourette allows that some Bush tax cuts could ultimately expire. Rather than set specific tax rates, the bill would give legislators a revenue target, and "they can reach the number any way they want," he said. "They can reach that number by making the top rate 25 percent and not extending the Bush tax cuts for what some people call 'rich people.' "
And he rejects the notion that Bowles-Simpson raises taxes while Paul Ryan's budget plan doesn't. He singled out Grover Norquist for trying to argue as much. "Crap," he said. "Nobody where I grew up understands that kind of baloney. After all, he said, by promising to close tax loopholes, Republicans like Ryan would be increasing the tax rates for some, as John Boehner himself has admitted.
But by refusing to budge on Bush tax cuts until a "grand bargain" is struck, LaTourette and his GOP colleagues may actually make it even harder to come to a deficit deal. Extending the Bush tax cuts for another year — as they voted to do Wednesday — would add more than $400 billion to the deficit, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation. When a reporter pressed him on the issue, LaTourette acknowledged that even a short-term extension of the Bush tax cuts would add to the deficit. "Everything we do here makes the problem worse until you fix the problem," he said.