By Robynn Tysver
A bipartisan group in Congress is pushing for a mix of cuts and higher revenues to solve the nation's fiscal woes. That group includes two congressmen each from Nebraska and Iowa.
Forty House Republicans broke with party orthodoxy Wednesday and joined with 60 House Democrats in urging Congress' supercommittee to consider all options for raising revenues as they hunt for ways to trim the nation's debt.
Nebraska U.S. Reps. Lee Terry and Jeff Fortenberry, both Republicans, signed the letter to the debt-reduction panel.
Iowa Reps. Leonard Boswell and Dave Loebsack, both Democrats, also signed.
The group studiously avoided making any suggestions on what tax increases or other revenue generators -- such as ending some tax deductions -- should be considered. Signees admitted that any specific proposal could shatter the group's unanimity, but the letter opened the door to the possibility that tax hikes or tax reform could be considered.
Fortenberry said the letter was an example of politicians on both sides of the aisle being willing to take a "political risk."
"If the spirit of this statement were reasonably enacted, I'm convinced the power of the economy would be unleashed, confidence would increase, and the U.S. government could stop the extreme borrowing and begging," Fortenberry said.
Terry issued a statement saying he has always believed that everything "needs to be on the table," but he then quickly took tax hikes off it. Terry said he could not support raising taxes but could support increasing revenues by doing such things as auctioning off the nation's broadcast spectrum.
"It may take some work to get there, but we can find a way forward by cutting spending and increasing revenue without raising taxes on Americans," Terry said.
The letter's bipartisan, conciliatory tone stood in sharp contrast with the divisive political atmosphere in Washington that has prevailed for much of the year. It also came three weeks before the supercommittee is required to complete its work.
The 12-member bipartisan committee was created by Congress this year to find a solution to trim the nation's nearly $15 trillion debt.
In the letter, the congressmen and women struck a contrast with this summer's budget debates, when a majority of Republicans in Congress said tax increases should be off the table.
"To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table," the letter said.
The signers constituted about one in six House Republicans and nearly a third of its Democrats -- hardly the kind of numbers that typically force difficult decisions in Washington. Even so, participants expressed hope that a letter signed by 100 of the House's 435 members would have clout.
"It's now a time for the ostriches to pull their heads out of the sand, the holier-than-thou crowd to get off their horses," said Rep. Steven LaTourette, R-Ohio. "The sacred cows need to be made into hamburger."
So far, the supercommittee has faced a partisan dilemma. Democrats demand higher taxes as their price for accepting significant savings from benefit programs such as Medicare, while Republicans oppose revenue increases and insist on trimming benefit programs.
The list of signers includes many moderates from both parties. But it also includes conservatives such as presidential candidate Ron Paul, R-Texas, and liberals such as Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., who is chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus.
Boswell said the letter was about showing "support" to the supercommittee.
"I joined with some 40 Republicans from across the aisle in facing reality and showing the committee support as they face this challenge," Boswell said.
Like all but three of the 40 GOP signatories, Fortenberry and Terry had signed a pledge by anti-tax activist Grover Norquist to oppose tax increases.
Fortenberry has since distanced himself from the pledge, refusing to sign again in later campaigns. He has said such pledges "restrain your ability to think creatively."
Terry said his signature on the letter did not contradict the pledge. "Since he is not talking about specific tax increases, the pledge does not apply in this case," said Charles Isom, the congressman's spokesman.
Norquist did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The committee faces a Nov. 23 deadline for proposing at least $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. If Congress doesn't approve such a plan by Dec. 23, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would start taking effect in 2013.
The letter urged the special committee to cut even deeper -- $4 trillion in 10-year savings.