Cracks Show in Republican Unity on Tax Rates

Republicans began to show cracks after a conservative congressman said he would back an agreement with President Obama to raise tax rate for wealthy Americans but extend tax cuts for income below $250,000.

Republicans are still in talks over whether to accept President Obama’s plan raising tax rates for people with income of less than $250,000, as an administration official said the White House was stepping up behind-the-scenes negotiations. Photo: The White House

Conservative Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole urged his colleagues Tuesday that it’s better to make sure that tax cuts for the 98 percent of taxpayers who earn less than $250,000 a year are extended than to battle it out with the U.S. president and risk increasing taxes on everyone.

Cole’s remarks are noteworthy as he’s a well-known GOP loyalist and a confidant of House Speaker John Boehner. They were made in a meeting of the House GOP Republican whip team, which is a sounding board for GOP leaders, The Daily Journal reports.

“If we don’t believe taxes should go up on anybody, why can’t we accept a deal that takes 98 percent out and still leaves us free to fight on the other grounds,” Cole said in Wednesday. “I’m not for using the American people for leverage or as a hostage.”

By the way, Boehner disapproved Cole’s comments as the Speaker is standing firm against Obama’s demand that tax rates go up for top earners.

“He’s a wonderful friend of mine and a great supporter of mine, but raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent half of those taxpayers are small business owners,” Boehner said. “You’re not going to grow the economy if you raise the top two rates. It’ll hurt small business. It’ll hurt our economy.”

According to Cole, reaction was mixed to his idea at a Wednesday. Conservative Rep. Raul Labrador revealed that he believed a majority of House Republicans also opposed it.

The Oklahoma politician he would stay for Obama’s plan whatever deficit-cutting deal Boehner is eventually able to negotiate with the White House as the two sides wrangle over how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” mix of tax increases and spending cuts that will occur automatically in January unless lawmakers avert them.

“This is a tactical argument, this is not a theological argument,” Cole said. “We don’t disagree on what we’re trying to do.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Mike Lee argued that raising taxes on the rich would primarily hurt the middle class.

“The reason we worry about raising taxes on anyone – even raising taxes on the rich,” Lee argued, is “that will hit the poorest among us the hardest.” Lest listeners get the wrong idea, the Utah Senator insisted, “it’s not that we’re looking out for the rich.”

Reuters counted that the president’s plan would raise up to $80 billion in new revenues a year, which would go a long way toward replacing the $109 billion in harsh, across-the-board domestic spending cuts that are set to begin in 2013 unless Congress acts.

Erskine Bowles, the former chairman of the White House’s 2010 deficit-reduction panel, met with Republican leaders at the Capitol and said afterward that progress was being made.

“I think we will see give in all areas, if we’re going to get a deal done. If not, we’re going to go over this cliff and I think everybody realizes that would be disaster,” he told reporters.

“Look, I’m not more optimistic or less optimistic. I’m hopeful, but I wouldn’t put me anywhere near the optimistic category,” he said. “We’ve got a long way to go and very few days to get it done.”

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