House Minority Whip Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) told Democratic budget negotiators yesterday that he was "prepared to sponsor and support" legislation to raise taxes to reduce the federal budget deficit.
Gingrich, one of the staunchest foes in Congress of raising taxes, said he expected that he would have to ask House Republicans to support a deficit-reduction package that would seek to raise fiscal 1991 tax revenues by about $25 billion and that he expected to be able to deliver the votes, participants at the budget negotiations said.
"It has always been my position that if we get an acceptable summit resolution, I would, of course, be an original cosponsor of that resolution," Gingrich said later. "If you're not willing to sponsor an agreement you think is good, you shouldn't be in the room."
The assurances from Gingrich were made a day after House Republicans approved a resolution opposing higher taxes and the assurances were delivered to a budget bargaining session in which negotiators sought to calm the political apprehensions that have impeded the talks.
Asked by House Majority Leader Richard A. Gephardt (D-Mo.) to explain the resolution, Gingrich told the group that House Republicans were responding to a statement by Senate Majority Leader George J. Mitchell (D-Maine) that he would oppose any plan to cut the tax rate for capital gains without also raising the income taxes on the wealthiest Americans, participants said.
House GOP lawmakers also wanted to highlight their demand for spending constraints, participants quoted Gingrich as saying.
Gingrich also said that as the GOP's chief House vote-counter, he would have to ask Republican lawmakers to vote for $25 billion in higher taxes, participants said. "I'm prepared to sponsor and support raising taxes," participants quoted him as saying.
In a May fund-raising letter, Gingrich declared, "I strongly believe that increasing taxes on working people will NOT solve our country's massive budget problems! . . . . Keeping the Democrats from raising income taxes is one of my toughest jobs."
Bargainers are hoping to achieve between $50 billion and $60 billion in deficit reduction next year. President Bush's original budget request included $13.9 billion in higher tax revenues.
Participants described yesterday's session of the budget talks as something of a group therapy session, with bargainers freely discussing the political problems facing them in trying to achieve an agreement. House Budget Committee Chairman Leon E. Panetta (D-Calif.) asked staff aides to leave shortly after the session began.
Panetta said the result was "a cease-fire, and hopefully it will last until we get an agreement."
"They expressed their concern about the resolution and we expressed our concern about the Mitchell statement," Gingrich said. "We're now in a truce."