Rep. Tom Reed is generally viewed as one of those committed House freshmen focused on slashing spending and eliminating $15 trillion in debt.
Tuesday, the Corning Republican emphasized that he still is. But he offered a significant gesture toward compromise with Democrats by hinting tax increases could be on the table -- if Democrats make genuine efforts to cut expenses.
"There needs to be a willingness to say that if this is your proposal on the revenue side, what is your proposal on the spending side?" Reed told editors and reporters at The Buffalo News.
Once those conversations take place, he said, real efforts can be directed toward compromise.
"There's got to be a third part of the conversation," he said. "That's the optimist in me."
The congressman, elected in a 2010 special election, will represent Chautauqua, Cattaraugus and Allegany counties if he wins re-election this fall. He has already made a mark as part of the freshman class that has dug in its heels against tax hikes and for major cuts in spending.
Reed said he detects a new recognition among Democrats and Republicans alike that Washington must change its ways before debt overtakes the government as in several European nations now in financial crisis. A time for solutions is nearing, he said, that will get serious only when both sides finish making the case for their own ideas.
"There's not a willingness to say, 'That is the solution,' " he said of the discussion under way in Washington. "But there is a willingness to say, 'We've had that conversation, what else is there?' "
Once that point is reached, he said, he believes Democrats may be willing to discuss spending reductions, and Republicans can entertain talks on taxes.
"We're going through the time we need to get there," he said.
Nevertheless, Reed made it clear he does not embrace raising taxes. He enumerated a host of programs -- especially entitlements -- that must be significantly reformed before any other discussions can proceed.
"A lot of people believe raising taxes is the solution," he said. "You can't raise taxes high enough to get out of this debt crisis. It's mathematically impossible.
"It's not a revenue problem. The root cause is truly spending," he added.
He noted that with annual deficits of $1.3 trillion, discussions on "solutions" such as raising taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent of taxpayers would only produce revenues of $70 billion.
"The tax code needs to be cleaned up," he said. "Why not engage in substantive debate on spending and then come up with solutions?"
Reed, whose town meetings throughout his sprawling district are a trademark of his short tenure in Congress, said the constituents filling the fire halls and veterans posts to express their opinions are more concerned about the economy than any other issue.
"It's all jobs," he said. "People are concerned about the economy and jobs."