Obstinacy vs. unanimity

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), making his 18 gajillionth appearance on a Sunday morning show, was asked on CNN this morning about Republican willingness to increase revenue as part of a debt-reduction deal. He replied with a mixed signal.

“Jon Kyl was in negotiations with the vice president and he said there were certain revenue raisers in other areas that perhaps we could work on, but to somehow say we’re going to raise Americans taxes, anybody’s taxes, I think … it’s a principle we promised the American people last November and that we have to stick to,” McCain said.

I’m not entirely sure what that means, but McCain probably sees a distinction between “taxes” and “revenue raisers.”

And that’s a good thing.

Just two days ago, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) not only said he wants a 100-0 split when it comes to cuts vs. revenue, but also said his entire caucus is united around this point. Republicans, he argued, simply won’t tolerate anything less than everything they want. There can be no compromise; the GOP won’t accept one.

The next question, of course, is pondering whether (and how much) McConnell is posturing. The Minority Leader loves to gain as much leverage as possible as part of any set of negotiations, so it’s hardly a stretch to think he’d start off by effectively arguing, “No new revenue. Period.”

But as the process continues, it’s worth remembering that Republican attitudes on this are more diverse than McConnell likes to let on.

To be sure, we’ve seen plenty of leading former Republican officeholders (Pete Domenici, Alan Simpson) argue that their party has to accept additional revenue. We’ve also seen Reagan’s former team, including Reagan’s former budget director, say things like, “It is simply unrealistic to say that raising revenue isn’t part of the solution. It’s a measure of how far off the deep end Republicans have gone with this religious catechism about taxes.”

But let’s not forget some members from McConnell’s own caucus who’ve suddenly gotten quiet. Just a few months ago, Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) said that to tackle the debt, additional revenue has to be “part of the mix.” Soon after, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), while calling for his colleagues to accept sacrifices, said, “My taxes are going to go up. Sorry, they’re going to go up. This country cannot get out of this mess with the behavior that we’re exhibiting in this body, and if we fail to do what is necessary for our country at this critical time in our juncture, history will deem us absolutely incompetent.”

Let’s also not forget that, just two weeks ago, most of the Republicans in the Senate voted to scrap an ethanol tax break, despite pleas from right-wing activists that this would count as a tax increase.

And now John McCain is opening the door to working on “certain revenue raisers.”

The point is, the public position of Republican leaders is that GOP lawmakers simply won’t accept, under any circumstances, any plan that brings in so much as a penny of additional revenue. I don’t doubt that many Republicans actually think this way, but the party isn’t nearly as unanimous on this point as the leadership’s rhetoric would have us believe.