By Andrew Taylor
WASHINGTON — The first cracks are developing among Republicans over whether to accept a quick deal with President Barack Obama on allowing the top two income tax rates to expire.
Conservative Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole told GOP colleagues in a private meeting on Tuesday that it's better to make sure that tax cuts for the 98 percent of taxpayers who make less than $200,000 or $250,000 a year are extended than to battle it out with Obama and risk increasing taxes on everyone.
Cole's remarks are noteworthy because he's a longtime GOP loyalist and a confidant of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. They were made in a meeting of the House GOP Republican whip team, which is a sounding board for GOP leaders.
A Cole spokeswoman confirmed comments made to Politico, which first reported them.
"He was asked for his opinion," said the Cole spokeswoman. "He did advocate going ahead and getting an agreement to extend the tax relief for the 98 percent." Cole continues to back continuing tax relief for upper-bracket earners but is willing to fight that out later.
Obama could be in position to blame Republicans if an impasse results in the government going over the so-called fiscal cliff, an economy-rattling set of automatic spending cuts and tax increases from the expiration of longstanding tax cuts made in 2001 and 2003 during the Bush administration.
Democrats already are portraying GOP lawmakers as hostage-takers willing to let tax rates rise on everyone if lower Bush-era tax rates are not extended for the top 2 percent to 3 percent of earners — those with incomes above $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for joint filers.
Cole's comments drew a rebuke from Boehner, who 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."