Nov. 17 (Bloomberg) -- Senator Robert Portman proposed extending the expiring U.S. tax cuts, including those for the wealthy, for six months -- with a trigger that if Congress can’t come up with enough loophole closings that the top rate would rise to 39.6 percent.
The Republican senator from Ohio, in an interview on Bloomberg Television’s Political Capital with Al Hunt airing this weekend, called an extension the only “logical thing to do” on the so-called fiscal cliff, though the White House has said it would reject that idea.
“Why not say, ‘Let’s go ahead and reform the tax code, make a commitment now we’re going to have additional revenue?’” Portman said.
Portman said he views President Barack Obama’s $4 trillion 10-year debt-reduction package as “insufficient to deal with the crisis we face,” saying the president shouldn’t be able to count $1.1 trillion in spending cuts made previously.
The fiscal cliff is a $607 billion combination of automatic spending cuts and tax increases scheduled to take effect in January unless Congress acts. Seeking to avoid the cliff, Obama met with top congressional Democrats and Republicans yesterday.
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, speaking in a separate “Political Capital” interview after attending the meeting, said a deal shouldn’t be delayed.
“Deferring things doesn’t work,” Geithner said. “You know, we’ve had several periods now where there was a choice made to defer.” He repeated the administration’s call for letting the tax cuts expire for the highest earners.
On another contentious issue, Portman said Obama “can do better” than nominating Susan Rice as the next secretary of state. He emphatically backed his colleague, Senator John Kerry, a Massachusetts Democrat, for the post.
“He’s got broad experience,” Portman said. “I don’t agree with him on policy issues for the most part, but I think he’s a guy of integrity in terms of his foreign-policy issues. He’s actually been willing to stand up and express his own view independent of the administration now and again, including on Syria and other issues.”
Republican senators have preemptively said Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, is unfit for the secretary of state job because they don’t believe she told the truth about the circumstances behind the Sept. 11 deaths of four Americans in Benghazi, Libya.
Republican Senators John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina have said they would filibuster her appointment -- a step Portman said he wouldn’t necessarily take. He said he needed first to learn more about Rice’s background.
Rice said on Sunday television talk shows after the attack that the assault began as a spontaneous protest that was “hijacked” by militants. Republicans have questioned whether Rice was trying to conceal that terrorists were behind the killings.
“I am very discouraged by what I’m reading and hearing now,” Portman said. “It’s very sad.”
Obama in a Nov. 14 press conference defended Rice without saying he wants to nominate her, saying she “had nothing to do with Benghazi” and only said what she had been told in intelligence briefings.
‘Go After Me’
Rice has done “exemplary work” and has represented the U.S. “with skill and professionalism and toughness and grace,” Obama said. “If Senator McCain and Senator Graham and others want to go after somebody, they should go after me.”
Republicans might be backing Kerry’s departure for another reason: A special election in Massachusetts for his seat would give them another chance to return Scott Brown to the Senate. Brown was defeated by Democrat Elizabeth Warren on Nov. 6.
On the fiscal cliff, Portman said Congress should extend the tax cuts put in place by President George W. Bush for six months while members and the administration work on an overhaul of the tax code and entitlements.
If there’s no deal on reform next year, Portman said, “you have to have a trigger” to return the tax rate for the top income earners to 39.6 percent, as it was under President Bill Clinton, from 35 percent now.
Under those parameters, “the president would get what he wants,” Portman said. “He wants to sort of exact his political pound of flesh here after the election. I understand that.”
Portman said Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney lost the election for “all of the above” reasons, including failure to turn out base voters and to respond to negative ads from the Obama campaign on issues such as Bain Capital LLC, the private-equity firm Romney co-founded, and the automotive industry.
“It was the fact that we weren’t responding for months and months to a barrage of negative ads,” said Portman, Romney’s chairman in Ohio, which saw the most presidential ads of any state and which Romney lost by about 100,000 votes.
“We were outspent, but also I think we could have responded to some of the attacks in earlier and more appropriate ways,” Portman said.
Portman swatted away a question about whether he disagrees with Romney’s comments this week in a call to his top donors that he lost because Obama gave “gifts” through government programs to black, Hispanic and women voters.
“I think there are other ways to explain this,” Portman said.
To contact the reporter on this story: Julie Bykowicz in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jeanne Cummings at email@example.com