Paul Ryan killed any lingering hopes of a grand bargain within moments of the budget conference kickoff on Wednesday.
In his opening remarks, the Wisconsin congressman and chairman of the House budget committee laid down a firm marker against new taxes, which are essential to any major deficit reduction proposal that can pass Congress and be signed into law.
“Taking more from hardworking families just isn’t the answer. I know my Republican colleagues feel the same way,” Ryan said. “So I want to say this from the get-go: If this conference becomes an argument about taxes, we’re not going to get anywhere. The way to raise revenue is to grow the economy.”
In the same opening remarks, Ryan urged action on scaling back Social Security and Medicare — which progressives want to avoid at all costs, and which President Barack Obama and Democratic leaders have promised not to touch without new federal revenues.
“Ten thousand baby boomers are retiring every day. Health care costs are rising. Medicare and Social Security are going broke,” Ryan said. “The Congressional Budget Office says if we don’t act, we’ll have a debt crisis. And if that happens, the most vulnerable will suffer first and worst. This debt weighs down our economy even today. … We can’t kick the can down the road anymore. We’ve got to get a handle on our debt — now.”
Senate Budget Chair Patty Murray (D-WA) made clear Wednesday that Democrats aren’t going to enact GOP priorities without addressing some of their own.
“Compromise runs both ways,” she said. “While we scour programs to find responsible savings, Republicans are also going to have to work with us to scour the bloated tax code– and close some wasteful tax loopholes and special interest subsidies. Because it is unfair — and unacceptable — to ask seniors and families to bear this burden alone.”
Alas, the “balanced deal” she called for was immediately ruled out by Ryan. His comments reflect the no-compromise mood of the GOP. That means the two chambers are unlikely to strike a major debt deal or reconcile the different budgets passed by the House and Senate earlier this year. What is still achievable, however, is a mini bargain to replace some of the sequester, but even that is tricky.
Ryan, the GOP’s vice presidential nominee in 2012, is rumored to have presidential ambitions in 2016. Cutting a deal on tax revenues could damage his standing with the vigorously anti-tax Republican base, and with that his prospects of capturing the party’s nomination.
The 29-member bicameral committee was set up under the legislation passed by Congress on Oct. 16 to re-open the federal government and avert a default on the country’s debt. It has until Dec. 13 to reach an agreement.