WASHINGTON -- About 40 House Republicans have joined some 60 Democrats in pressing Congress' special debt reduction committee to consider all options, including higher revenues, and shoot for $4 trillion in savings.
Their letter puts about one-sixth of House GOP lawmakers on record as saying the supercommittee should consider collecting more taxes to help shrink the enormous national debt, now at $14.8 trillion. Most Republicans have strongly opposed raising revenues to address the problem.
"To succeed, all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues must be on the table," according to the letter obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press.
With a deadline three weeks away, the evenly divided, 12-member committee has shown few signs of progress. Democrats have demanded higher taxes as their price for accepting significant savings from benefit programs such as Medicare, but have been rebuffed by Republicans who oppose tax increases.
The letter, to be released later Wednesday, also urges the committee to aim well beyond its official goal of finding at least $1.2 trillion in savings over a decade.
"We know from other bipartisan frameworks that a target of some $4 trillion in deficit reduction is necessary to stabilize our debt as a share of the economy and assure America's fiscal well-being," the letter says.
Bipartisan budget experts who have produced plans for reducing the debt have urged the committee to produce at least $4 trillion in savings. They say doing less would not significantly alter the long-term financial nightmare the government faces, in which federal red ink continues growing at a faster rate than the U.S. economy.
A partial list of the letters' signers shows many moderates from both parties. There's a range, too, from conservative Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., who has had tea party support, to liberal Peter Welch, D-Vt.
Others who signed on include Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 House Democratic leader and Rep. Paul Gosar, R-Ariz., one of this year's 87 House freshmen. Reps. Heath Shuler, D-N.C., and Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, organized the letter.
"We know that many in Washington and around the country do not believe we in the Congress and those within your committee can successfully meet this challenge. We believe that we can and we must," the letter says.
The approximately 60 Democrats on the letter shows that nearly one-third of House Democrats say they are willing to cull savings from benefit programs as part of a debt-cutting deal.
Republicans have insisted that these huge and fast-growing programs, also called entitlements, must be targeted heavily.
"Those of us who are the strongest supporters of entitlement programs have to be at the table to guarantee sustainability," Welch said in an interview. "If we stand on the sidelines, those programs will be in enormous jeopardy."
The committee faces a Nov. 23 deadline for proposing at least $1.2 trillion in savings over 10 years. So far, it has made little apparent progress.
If Congress doesn't approve a plan by Dec. 23, $1.2 trillion in automatic cuts would start taking effect in 2013.
"Our country needs our honest, bipartisan judgment and our political courage. Your committee has been given a unique opportunity and authority to act. We are prepared to support you in this effort," the letter concludes.