‘I’m prepared to look at that’

Put aside the bravado and cliches, and Republicans know what the polls say about tax increases. GOP assumptions that the American mainstream agrees with the Republican line — no increases on anyone by any amount at any time — are long gone, and most of the country welcomes the idea of the wealthy shouldering a little more of the burden.

The question is what GOP lawmakers are prepared to say and/or do about it. Today, ABC posed a question about tax fairness to Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee. I found his response pretty interesting.

Sessions said he’s willing to consider something that would bring tax equity by ensuring the rich pay as high a percentage in taxes as middle-class taxpayers, but cautioned that such a move could backfire.

“I’m prepared to look at that,” he said, “but let me tell you about capital gains….”

What I find noteworthy are these minor cracks in the GOP’s wall of opposition. On Capitol Hill, phrases like “I’m prepared to look at that” are often seen as a signal of potential support, or at least something far short of outright opposition.

And it comes against the backdrop of related fissures. Freshman Rep. Richard Hanna (R-N.Y.) told voters last week he’s willing to talk about higher tax rates for millionaires and billionaires.

What’s more, last month, four far-right House Republicans participated in a joint town-hall meeting in a very conservative area. Three of the four said they’re open to additional revenue, and one said he wouldn’t rule out tax increases on those earning over $700,000 a year.

A week later, Rep. Randy Hultgren (R-Ill.) was badgered by constituents at a town-hall meeting on the need to raise taxes on the wealthy and corporations, and reluctantly said he’s open to ending oil-company subsidies and closing tax loopholes. Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), confronted by 200 angry constituents the same week, said the same thing.

Would any of these guys even consider this if the polls were one-sided in the other direction? I really doubt it. This matters, of course, because if Dems are aggressive and united on this — a big “if,” to be sure — and Republicans are “prepared to look at” progressive ideas, it suggests there’s at least a chance of some progress on tax policy.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.