Sen. Pat Toomey, the GOP's fiercest anti-tax warrior, stunned the supercommittee when he proposed raising taxes to break the impasse over cutting the government's monster debt.
The freshman Pennsylvania Republican has impeccable conservative credentials. Before he ran for the Senate last year, he ran the Club for Growth, an anti-tax, pro business political action committee that supported GOP House and Senate candidates who fought tax hikes, even knocking off some pro-tax Republican incumbents in party primaries.
Toomey's move was denounced by the Democrats who refused play his game, saying his plan didn't do enough to raise revenues. It also opened up a deeply divisive split in his own party.
Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, the Republican co-chair of the supercommittee, has sided with Toomey, as have other Republicans, including party leaders. But dozens of members see his plan as a betrayal of the GOP's position against raising taxes at any time, especially in the middle of a weak, high unemployment economy.
Rep. Patrick T. McHenry of North Carolina, who calls Hensarling one of his mentors, gathered more than 70 signatures from House Republicans this week on a fire-breathing letter to the panel's leadership that called any tax increases "irresponsible and dangerous to the health of the United States."
But the headlines and the stories about Toomey's tax plan leave out a critical component. While it would cap a number of itemized deductions that taxpayers take, thus raising their taxes, it would also offset those increases by lowering the income tax rates across the board.
Under Toomey's plan, all of the income tax rates would be reduced by as much as 20 percent -- lowering the top rate from 35 percent to 28 percent. The 10 percent bottom tax rate, created under President George W. Bush's 2001 tax cut law, would drop to 8 percent.
The details of these deduction caps are not clear right now and, as a chief analyst of a major business lobbying group told me this week, "the devil is in the details."
Overall, Toomey's plan would reportedly raise $400 billion in additional tax revenue, though an estimated $110 billion of that would be derived from higher economic growth and increased employment.
Supercommittee Democrats argue that his plan would hand huge tax cuts to the wealthy. But GOP aides say that most people in higher income brackets usually take many more deductions to lower their taxable income, so they would on average see their taxes go up.
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