With lawmakers from both sides suggesting that his powerful new "super committee" "go big" and seek $4 trillion in deficit savings, Congressman Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas) is seeking to temper expectations.
"I can do a trillion and a half dollars of deficit reduction in my sleep. Doing it on a bipartisan basis, frankly, is challenging," Hensarling told CBS News today. Hensarling co-chairs the 12-member super committee with Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington).
Hensarling says he senses a great deal of resolve among the 6 republicans and 6 democrats on the supercommittee, but "I'm not sure any of us are wearing our Superman or Superwoman capes. I don't believe this super committee in and of itself will solve the debt crisis, but I do believe we can take a solid step forward and give Americans more confidence that yes, their government can indeed work."
The conservative Texas congressman, who is a longtime proponent of fiscal restraint, says it is most important to reform Medicare and Medicaid, which the director of the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office confirmed yesterday will be two of the greatest drivers of the nation's debt in coming years. Hensarling also expressed hope the super committee could make major changes to the US tax code.
"I would like to just basically pick up the entire US revenue code, pick it up by its roots, and throw it in the nearest garbage can," he told CBS News, adding, "Is that within the scope of this committee? Absolutely it's in the scope. Do we have enough time to do it? I don't know. It's a huge challenge."
He says he'd like to at least address the business side of the tax code, and "start to clear out all the underbrush, all the special interest deals, what are known as either tax expenditures or loopholes and use that to bring down the rates to make them more competitive. I mean there is something that is fundamentally wrong with the tax code when on the one had you may have some multinational corporation paying almost no income tax and a small businessperson in Minneola Texas that I represent has to pay 25 percent of their income.
He didn't rule out seeking to raise revenue from a tax code overhaul.
"House republicans, we want to see more revenues. But the way to get more revenues is not to increase tax rates. It's to make the tax code fairer, flatter, simpler, and more competitive and give job creators confidence to go out and invest and hire new people. And so I would hope we could find some common ground with the Democrats on the joint select committee."
Hensarling says he supports some elements of the President's new jobs plan but was not thrilled by the President's suggestion that the supercommittee come up with an extra $450 billion in savings in order to offset the cost of the plan.
"The president took a challenging task and made it a whole lot more challenging by throwing this in. And what I don't really understand about this part of the president's program is, he's trying to incentivize job creators to create jobs by giving them a one year temporary tax relief but it's coupled with a permanent increase in taxes on a whole lot of small businesses so what he gives with one hand temporarily he takes away with another hand permanently."