(CBS News) Republicans would be willing to tender more revenue in a deal to replace the sequester, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today on "Face the Nation," if President Obama showed willingness to make "structural changes" to entitlement programs.
Part of Congress's bipartisan supercommittee tasked with crafting a plan to reduce the deficit by $1.5 trillion, Portman said he and his colleagues came "very close" to striking a "balanced" compromise that partnered spending cuts with revenue to replace the blind, across-the-board cuts known as sequestration before they went into effect March 1. "The problem," he said, was that Democrats' proposal to generate revenue fell back on tax hikes, two months after the so-called "fiscal cliff" package upped income taxes on families making more than $450,000 a year.
"We had tax reforms [in the failed plan], which helps grow the economy," Portman said. "Tax reform will help the folks on the bottom rung of the ladder get up to the second and third rung. So that's needed. It provides us the ability as Republicans who say, 'Look, we're getting the growth out of the taxes. And along with entitlement reform, we'd be willing to put more revenue on the table.' The supercommittee, we did that."
But the GOP approach to spending cuts, a Democratic lawmaker in the 12-member supercommittee said, frustrated any legitimate opportunity for progress on an alternative to the sequester, which was designed to be so potentially devastating to the economy that both sides would be incentivized to replace it. In retrospect, argued Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., "it's hard to see a moment where there was going to be a real breakthrough."
Mr. Obama knows "he needs to make more cuts," Van Hollen said. But "the Republican approach to date has been they want to deal with rising Medicare costs by transferring those extra costs onto the backs of seniors. ...We need to build on that approach, which doesn't pass that additional burden onto Medicare beneficiaries whose median income is $22,000. Which is why we've said we need revenue as part of a plan to also reduce those other costs."
Several days after the president wined and dined Republicans at the Jefferson Hotel, Van Hollen said outreach to the GOP is "an important move forward" on tackling the budget. But, he added, "ultimately our Republican colleagues are going to have to back off their position where they're saying that you can't close one single tax loophole for the purpose of reducing the deficit. You've got to take a balanced approach going forward."