Under Growing Criticism, Republicans Show Signs Of Anti-Tax Fatigue

The details are still extremely murky. But House Speaker John Boehner might well break the Republicans’ no-new-tax-revenue pact in a grand bargain that would have President Obama agree to trillions of dollars in spending cuts.

How we got from “hell no!” to “maybe!” is a still-evolving story. But the fact that it’s a story at all reflects a key dynamic in the political fight over raising the debt limit: As much as Republicans oppose tax increases — even new tax revenues — they’re also feeling pinched by a growing line of criticism that their anti-tax zeal is unreasonable, particularly compared to Democrats’ openness to major spending cuts.

We saw this in a couple different ways yesterday. At his weekly Capitol briefing on Wednesday, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) made what sounded to many like a concession on taxes.“[I]f the President wants to talk loopholes, we’ll be glad to talk loopholes,” Cantor said. “But, listen, we are not for any proposal that increases taxes, and any type of discussion should be coupled with offsetting tax cuts somewhere else.”

In other words, zero new revenues. But the Associated Press and other outlets nonetheless interpreted this as a major concession — a storyline Cantor’s office happily blasted out to reporters.

And as Reuters reported Wednesday, Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) made a point of emphasizing that Republicans had in fact agreed to new “revenue.” But he didn’t mean tax revenue.

“If the government sells something and gets revenue from it, that’s revenue. If there is a user fee of some kind and we want to raise that to keep up with the times, that’s revenue. And if you add up all of the revenues that we Republicans have agreed to, it’s between $150 billion and $200 billion,” Kyl said on the Senate floor.

But again, thats not new tax revenue. And it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that Republicans hope this coy dance will allow them to shimmy out of the box they’ve put themselves in.

“Our focus on tax loopholes seems to be putting Republicans on their heels on the issue of revenues,” said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY). “But if Republicans are going say we can only close these loopholes in a revenue-neutral way, it is like taking one step forward and then two steps back. The point isn’t to get rid of these loopholes simply to pay for new tax breaks elsewhere, it’s to do it in a way that contributes to the reduction of the debt.”