The Republican co-chairman of Congress’s debt “supercommittee” on Wednesday walked backed his statement that the GOP members of the panel have “gone as far as we feel we can go” on new tax revenue, telling reporters in a hastily-arranged news conference that he would be willing to consider any offer that the committee’s Democrats make.
“I’m willing to look at any offer,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), who is also chairman of the House Republican Conference, told reporters in the Cannon House Office Building Wednesday afternoon. “I’ve been awaiting since mid-August an offer that actually reforms our entitlement spending and solves the problem. I’m still looking forward to that, and should that come, I would be more than happy to negotiate around that offer.”
In an appearance on CNBC’s “Kudlow Report” Tuesday night, Hensarling had said that supercommittee Republicans’ offer earlier this month — which included $250 billion in new revenues achieved through tax reform plus an additional $50 billion through changing the measure of inflation used to calculate tax brackets — represented the most GOP lawmakers are willing to concede on the issue of taxes.
Democrats were quick to seize on the remarks Tuesday night, arguing that they were “a big step backward today by rallying around a plan that’s a non-starter.”
Hensarling, who spoke to reporters Wednesday before his “fifth or sixth” conversation of the day on the supercommittee’s work, said that the panel’s Republicans “already have other offers on the table.”
But he went on to add that until Democrats produce a counter-offer, Republicans are “not changing” the offer that was put forward by Sen. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) on behalf of the panel’s GOP members in the negotiations earlier this month.
“That’s the offer,” he said. “We’re not changing this offer that we have on the table. I’m not going to negotiate with myself. But again, I’m still awaiting Democrats to put fundamental reform of our entitlements on the table. I would like to see Democrats put on the table a pro-growth, pro-jobs tax reform program. So, no, we’re not changing that offer that we’ve put on the table.”
Hensarling’s remarks come as the committee is exactly one week away from its Nov. 23 deadline. Democrats huddled earlier in the day on the Senate side of the Capitol, while GOP members held meetings in the Cannon House Office Building.
Asked on his way out of a meeting earlier Wednesday whether Republicans were working toward a new offer, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), one of three House Republicans on the panel, said, “Nothing really to relay right now.”
Hensarling also had some words on Wednesday for President Obama, who called the two co-chairs of the supercommittee last week to urge them to reach a deal but has largely stayed out of the panel’s negotiations.
The president, Hensarling said, made a “very gracious” call but should clarify his threat to veto any supercommittee deal that reforms federal entitlement programs without raising taxes on the wealthy.
“One of the things the president can do that would be helpful — and I told him this — is that he has issued a veto threat on the product of the joint committee,” Hensarling said. “His veto threat has been widely attributed to be that there can be no reforms of our unsustainable Medicare and health care spending unless it’s (accompanied by) a trillion-dollar tax increase that we believe fundamentally would make the job crisis worse.”
“As I indicated to the president, if that was not in his wishes, then he should either clarify that veto threat or withdraw that veto threat,” Hensarling added. “That would be something that would be very helpful the president could do to these negotiations.”