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Exclusive: Republican Dave Camp rules nothing out for debt panel

By Donna Smith

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A leading Republican lawmaker would not rule out tax increases on Thursday if they fostered economic growth, adding that "everything is on the table" for a U.S. congressional panel charged with forging a deal to cut the deficit.

Representative Dave Camp, head of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the House of Representatives, told Reuters in a telephone interview that the deepening global financial crisis would prompt him and other "super committee" members to pull together.

Asked what sort of pressure the economic turmoil put on the committee, he said: "It does add an importance to what we are trying to do. It makes the stakes even higher."

Camp, who was named on Wednesday to the new special deficit reduction panel, voiced optimism that the group of six Republicans and six Democrats would overcome the political divide and reach agreement.

"I don't want to rule anything in or out," Camp said. "I am willing to discuss all issues that might help us reduce our short and long-term debt and grow our economy," Camp said.

"Everything is on the table, until we as a group rule it out," he said. The economy and jobs are priorities, he added.

"Economic growth and job creation in the private sector -- that's what we need to use as a benchmark about any policy, but particularly tax policy," Camp said.

Camp's fellow Republicans have stood firm against raising taxes to reduce the deficit, arguing that higher rates would harm an already fragile economy. They also have resisted efforts to end special-interest tax breaks, such as a tax credit for ethanol producers, outside the context of a broad tax reform. Camp declined to detail what he would consider.

On Wednesday following his appointment to the panel, Republican Senator Patrick Toomey, a favorite of the conservative Tea Party movement, told reporters that the tax code has "indefensible" special-interest tax breaks that could be considered. The senator said he was not interested in any large tax increases, which he said could hurt the economy. Toomey noted that he voted to end the ethanol tax subsidy.

RESTORE CONFIDENCE

With global stock markets swooning over worries about the historic U.S. credit rating downgrade and Washington's huge annual budget deficits, Camp urged a broad look at how to fix the U.S. fiscal mess.

"We do need to restore confidence and have substantive decisions made about our short- and long-term debt," he said.

Lawmakers engaged in a partisan battle over spending and taxes for more than three months before agreeing on August 2 to raise the $14.3 trillion U.S. debt ceiling, avoid a U.S. default and establish the super panel.

Noticeably absent from the deal were any tax increases in a first round of deficit reduction, despite President Barack Obama's insistence that a balanced approach to fixing the budget was necessary. Instead, the approximately $900 billion in short-term savings come from spending cuts.

The new panel Camp is serving on has been asked to find around $1.5 trillion more in budget savings over 10 years and issue its recommendations by November 23. Those savings can include spending and tax measures.

It is being called a super committee because its recommendations must be voted on by Congress by December 23 and no amendments will be allowed.

If the panel fails to reach agreement, or Congress fails to act, some $1.2 trillion in automatic budget cuts will be triggered in 2013.

TAXES AND CUTS

In making its decisions, the panel will be looking at everything from tax reform to politically popular programs such as the Medicare and Medicaid health programs for the elderly and poor as well as the Social Security retirement program which is facing increasing financial strains as the aging baby boomer generation, born between 1946 and 1964, retires.

Democrats have resisted cuts to Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as long as Republicans kept tax increases off the table.

The super committee includes Senate Republicans Toomey, Rob Portman and Jon Kyl. Republican House members along with Camp are Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and Jeb Hensarling, who will serve as co-chairman of the panel.

Democratic senators named to the panel are Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, John Kerry and Patty Murray, who also will serve as co-chairman.

House of Representatives Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on Thursday named James Clyburn, the No. 3 House Democrat, to the panel, along with Xavier Becerra and Chris Van Hollen, the senior Democrat on the House Budget Committee.

(Editing by Howard Goller, Anthony Boadle and Eric Beech)

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