“I’m not used to the 9 o’clock food fight, that starts bright and early here in Washington,” he told the House Budget Committee on Friday morning, after Rep. Chris Van Hollen ripped into the economic policies of his party—and his older brother. “I’m from Florida, where it doesn’t start that way.”
Calling himself “an old school guy,” the former Florida governor tried to distance himself from the party line: He called immigration an “economic solution” and strongly defended government spending on scientific research and infrastructure.
Bush even distanced himself from Grover Norquist, whose anti-tax pledge has united the vast majority of Congressional Republicans in a vow to reject any tax increases. When Van Hollen (D-Md.) asked whether he supported the pledge, Bush pointed out that he had refused to do so on three occasions as governor. “I don’t believe you outsource your convictions and principles to people,” Bush said.
Democrats immediately seized upon Bush’s remarks. Even before the hearing was over, Van Hollen’s press team blasted out his comments on the Norquist pledge to reporters, including a video of the exchange.
But despite his apparent heresies, Bush made it clear during his testimony that he was essentially united with Republicans in Congress on taxes. He said he was willing to close tax breaks and loopholes that unfairly advantaged some industries and not others--but only in return for lowering tax rates over all, which is exactly the position that House Speaker John Boehner affirmed two weeks ago.
He emphasized what he called the necessity of extending all the George W. Bush tax cuts to avoid “a massive tax increase” that would hurt the economy. That’s precisely the demand that Sen. Pat Toomey (Pa.) and other Republicans made during the failed supercommittee negotiations, proposing the elimination of certain tax deductions and write-offs in exchange for permanently extending the Bush tax cuts. And while Jeb Bush broke from the GOP presidential field in accepting the “10-to1” proposal for deficit reduction—$10 in spending cuts for every $1 in revenue—Congressional Republicans such as Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee have agreed to the same.
Bush did go a bit farther than House Republicans in targeting specific tax loopholes. For example, under questioning from Texas Democrat Rep. Lloyd Doggett, Bush agreed that tax breaks for oil companies such as Exxon and Chevron should be on the table. “I think that’s exactly what we should be doing,” he said, to Doggett’s apparent surprise. He emphasized, however, that he didn’t support closing loopholes for any specific company but that such changes should be industry-wide, in exchange for lower rates.
That’s more than, say, Rep. Paul Ryan (Wis.) has been willing to offer so far in terms of the particulars of a potential tax overhaul. But, ultimately, there’s not much, if any, daylight between Jeb Bush’s position on taxes and that of his GOP colleagues in Washington.