Taxes, Deficit Dominate Discussions by GOP, Democrats

Republicans talk tax cuts, deficit reduction; Democrats call for jobs, aid to unemployed

The economy was prominent on the Sunday talk shows; once again Republicans and Democrats duked it out over their differing views of what’s needed and what will happen in the coming year.

On Fox News Sunday, Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., chairman of the Senate budget committee, talked about the deficit commission, and his idea for a summit meeting that would include not just House and Senate leaders, but also the president and his representatives. As originally designed, he said, the secretary of the treasury would head the commission, and the head of OMB would be one of its members. That, of course, has not happened. However, Conrad said that the commission’s recommendations were a “strong beginning,” and a large part of it could be approved, although he added that “we need more.”

Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, said that while the commission’s recommendation was an “adult bipartisan conversation,” it also represented “a roughly $2 trillion tax increase on the American people and does not fundamentally address the key driver of our national fiscal crisis,” which he said is health care.

Hensarling and Conrad disagreed about the cost impact of the health care plan, which Hensarling said would raise costs; Conrad pointed out that CBO said it would substantially reduce costs. The two also disagreed about tax cuts, which Conrad supported for the middle class and poor and which Hensarling wanted for the wealthy as well. Hensarling also sidestepped the question when host Chris Wallace asked how Republicans would pay for the tax cut for the affluent, when they were objecting to extending unemployment benefits without finding a way to pay for them.

Former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich advocated asking businesses the number of years of tax cuts they would need in order to begin to create jobs. Gingrich added that currently businesses would not hire because they were so concerned about the status of the tax laws. In the panel discussion, Juan Williams of Fox pointed out that the latest poll shows that a majority of Americans “are opposed to extending tax cuts for those who make more than the $250,000. In fact, most Republicans don't even support it,” he added. And he wondered why Obama wasn’t negotiating harder to gain tax cuts for the under-$250,000 crowd and for an extension of unemployment benefits.

On Meet the Press, Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said, “I think it's pretty clear now taxes are not going up on anybody in the middle of this recession.” Still under discussion, he said, was how long the tax breaks should continue, and “many other issues ... on unemployment compensation.” Notwithstanding the poll mentioned by Williams on Fox, he added, “In other words, it's bipartisan opposition to raising taxes on anybody at this time.” When host David Gregory pressed him on how many jobs the Bush tax cuts had created since they had been in effect, he sidestepped, saying only, “Imagine, imagine how much worse it would been if we'd had the, the higher tax rate.”

McConnell also intimated that nothing would be done on any unemployment extension until the issue of tax cuts had been settled and “until [we] decide how we're going to fund the government for the next 10 months.” He also refused to commit to saying one way or another how he felt about the deficit commission’s proposals, saying, “[I]t would be absolutely irresponsibleto sit here on a Sunday talk show and blow the talks by starting to endorse and rule out things.”

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., said that the failed vote on tax cuts on Saturday “made it very, very clear this enormous divide between the Republicans and the Democrats. The Republicans are fighting to keep in place a tax policy that has failed over the last eight years. We have had a net loss of jobs, and what we've seen is a Republican Party that's absolutely prepared to deny unemployment insurance to people who have been laid off.”

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