GOP opens door to raising taxes

WASHINGTON — A group of 40 House Republicans for the first time encouraged Congress's deficit reduction committee to explore new revenue as part of a broad deal that would make a major dent in the nation's debt Wednesday, joining 60 Democrats in a rare bipartisan effort to urge the "supercommittee" to reach a big deal that could also include entitlement cuts.

The letter represents a rare cross-party effort for the rancorous House, and its organizers said they hoped it would help nudge the 12-member panel to reach a deal that would far exceed the committee's $1.5 trillion mandate.

Among those who signed were several dozen Republicans who had previously signed a pledge promising they would not support a net tax increase. Among the Democratic signers were some of the House's most liberal members who have opposed entitlement cuts.

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, D-Mo., chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, said the effort was to help Congress avoid being "cornered by the paralysis of small potatoes." Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., a member of the conservative Republican Study Group, said the intent was to compel the supercommittee to craft a strategy "so big, so comprehensive, so inclusive that any great statesman or stateswoman could hardly resist voting for it."

"To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table," the group wrote, adding that previous deficit reduction task forces have suggested a goal of reducing the debt by $4 trillion over the next decade. "Our country needs our honest, bipartisan judgment and our political courage."

The letter comes as pessimism that the supercommittee can find agreement by a Nov. 23 deadline is running high on Capitol Hill.

Aides to both sides have said the six House members and six Senators who serve on the panel are stuck on the same issue that has divided previous efforts to cut the deficit — Democrats want Republicans to accept sizable new revenue generation before agreeing to significant entitlement cuts and Republicans do not want to back a tax increase.

Republican supercommittee members spent Wednesday shuttling between leadership offices, in discussions over potential revisions to an offer they sent to Democrats last week, aides said.

The bipartisan letter sent Wednesday included no specifics. It did not, for instance, commit its signers to supporting a tax increase, as many Democrats have urged, but merely urged that the committee consider revenue.