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Published: Wednesday, 11/16/2011

Boehner backs tax boost to cut deficit

BLADE NEWS SERVICES

WASHINGTON -- House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio publicly blessed a Republican deficit-reduction plan Tuesday that would raise $300 billion in tax revenue while overhauling the IRS code. He defied opposition by some GOP presidential hopefuls and colleagues wary of violating a long-standing point of party orthodoxy.

Mr. Boehner, the top Republican in Congress, spoke as time grew perilously short for agreement by the deficit-fighting "supercommittee." The panel has until a week from Wednesday to vote on any compromise.

Under the proposed plan, Republicans would agree to raise tax revenue over the next 10 years, largely by limiting itemized deductions for upper-income households.

In return, Democrats would agree to undertake a revamp of the tax code next year that would at least freeze top income tax brackets and others at their current levels -- rather than allow them to rise at the end of 2012, when the President George W. Bush-era tax rates expire.

The six Republicans and six Democrats on the supercommittee are charged with reducing the federal government's red ink by $1.2 trillion or more over a decade. Any deal must be certified by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office as meeting the $1.2 trillion target, circulated to lawmakers, and then posted publicly before the committee takes formal action. Failure to act would trigger $1.2 trillion in automatic deficit cuts in 2013 that both sides say they want to avoid.

Mr. Boehner huddled Tuesday with the top Democrat, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, to see if a deal was possible.

Republicans have moved off their staunch anti-tax stance in recent weeks, and Democrats have shown willingness to rein in benefit programs, including Medicare, the health-care program for the elderly, that are projected to blow a hole in the budget in coming decades.

Although Mr. Boehner's voice is important, his endorsement does not mean all Republicans will follow him or that a deal is in sight. Republicans have been unified for two decades in opposition to higher taxes, while Democrats on the supercommittee insist on additional revenue before they will agree to cuts in benefit programs like Medicare as part of a compromise.

In his comments Tuesday, Mr. Boehner cited the importance of tax overhaul in the proposal that Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) made to supercommittee Democrats last week.

"It's important for us to, in my opinion, reform the tax code. And we've got the highest business tax rate in the world. We've got a personal tax system that's so complicated it costs Americans about $500 billion a year to comply with the current tax code," he said.

Republican officials have said the offer made by Mr. Toomey envisions an overhaul that would drop the top tax rate on personal income to 28 percent from the current 35 and shave or eliminate some itemized deductions that are commonly used. The top corporate rate would also fall.



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