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Bass, Guinta on different sides of 'cliff' tax debate

Senior Political Reporter

December 08. 2012 9:17PM

They leave office in January, but Republican U.S. Reps. Frank Guinta and Charles Bass hope they have at least one more big task ahead.

Within weeks, the current Congress will be asked to vote on a solution to avert the "fiscal cliff," the automatic huge budget cuts and tax hikes that have been topping the news since Election Day. President Barack Obama and House Speaker John Boehner are trying to negotiate a deal.

Guinta and Bass, following their past voting patterns on fiscal matters, take opposing views on the possibility of raising tax rates for those who earn more than $250,000 a year.

"I cannot see a scenario where I vote to raise rates," Guinta told the Sunday News on Friday.

He said Boehner, the chief negotiator for the Republicans, cannot automatically count on his vote.

Bass, however, said he could support such a hike as part of a package in which Obama agrees to significant budget cuts, including in entitlements.

Last week, Bass signed a bipartisan letter to the House and Senate Democratic and GOP leaderships insisting that "all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table."

Bass said he is open to either? revenue option as long as "the new revenue is not funding new spending."

Guinta, a former Manchester mayor who has served one House term, said, "I wish we were looking at cutting taxes for the middle class and having that as part of the discussion because I think that would actually enhance the opportunity to grow the economy."

Guinta called it a "shame that the President has positioned this as raising taxes on a certain class of people rather than talking about cutting taxes for the middle class."

Guinta has not always supported Boehner, and, he said, "This is no different than anything else. I've always maintained the responsibility I have is to take a look at what the legislation or the agreement is."

"I'll wait and see what the agreement is, but I will absolutely reserve judgment in terms of my vote," Guinta said.

"I'd like to ask the President, 'How much is enough?'" Guinta said. "How much money does he need to run this government? Because we're taking in more than $2 trillion annually, and I would argue that we can put a plan together that gets us to a balanced budget inside of five years by reforming the code, which would change revenues, with a pro-growth economic model."

Obama's insistence on raising the top two tax rates "is being very narrow-minded," Guinta said.

Bass said he expected the drama to play out until the final hours.

"This is nothing new," said the seven-term congressman.

"It's regrettable the President has put his marker so far off of where it had been in the past. He now wants more conditions - automatic debt limit increases, a new stimulus package. It seems to indicate he's less than serious at this point about resolving the problem at all.

"My view has always been that if the President wants to raise tax rates, he should tell us where he's going to find the spending cuts," Bass said. "If he doesn't, there's no point in continuing the discussions because no Republican wants to vote for higher taxes and more spending."

Long a supporter of the so-called "Simpson-Bowles" plan to couple revenue increases with cuts, Bass said, "If there is a reasonable package of spending reductions that has some increased revenue, I'll support it.

"But if it's increased revenue to pay for more spending, that's not why I went to Washington," he said.

"I want to avoid the fiscal cliff, but if the speaker is going to give on revenue, the President has to start showing us where he's going to give on spending," said Bass.

"And I agree with the President that he wants specificity on how the Republicans will increase revenue by closing loopholes. If the President is willing to talk about where he's going to reduce spending, then we should be specific on that."

Unlike Guinta, Bass said he could support a tax rate hike for the wealthy, "but if, and only if, it is connected to a meaningful reduction in nondiscretionary spending.

"I don't think raising tax rates is a good idea, and never have, but the alternative is have everybody's taxes go up and then the President comes back in late January and says, 'I'm going to offer the American people the biggest tax cut in American history,' and it's going to be exactly the tax cut he wants (for the middle class) now.

"You might as well accept that as reality," said Bass. "He did win the election and the Senate is still in Democratic hands, and so let's see what we can do on the spending side."

Bass said there is no real difference between raising taxes for the rich while keeping current deductions in place, and reducing deductions for the rich while keeping rates in place.

"The Democrats just want to make the Republicans eat their - whatever - on the 'no tax increase' pledge," Bass said. "It's just a personal victory, a political debate.

"So, I'd call (Obama's) bluff and say, 'OK, I'll vote for it. But where are the savings?'"

Guinta said the deal "could happen before Christmas, but it could happen on the 31st."

Bass said, however, "I do not think this is going to happen until it absolutely has to."

In the end, Guinta said, Boehner and Obama will probably get the approximately 100 Republican and 118 Democratic House votes they need to pass a plan.

"You have to get to 218," he said.

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John DiStaso is senior political reporter of the New Hampshire Union Leader and New Hampshire Sunday News. He can be reached at Twitter: @jdistaso.

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