GOP lawmakers debate politics of raising top tax rates

GOP lawmakers debate politics of raising top tax rates

POSTED: Sunday, December 9, 2012 - 9:00pm

UPDATED: Sunday, December 9, 2012 - 9:04pm

Divergent Republican views on raising tax rates for the wealthy were on display Sunday, as time grew shorter for reaching a deal to avoid fiscal crisis at the end of the year.

Reps. Marsha Blackburn and Tom Cole both said on CNN's "State of the Union" they didn't want to see rates increase for top-earning Americans, which President Barack Obama has said must be included in a deal to cut the nation's federal deficit. But the two disagreed on whether it was politically wise for Republicans to steadfastly oppose those tax hikes on the top 2% of American incomes.

Cole made waves earlier this month by suggesting Congress pass a deal piece by piece and immediately extend tax cuts for the 98% of Americans who fall below the $250,000 threshold, and then negotiate later over the remaining top 2% of taxpayers.

On Sunday, Cole reiterated his position that an initial deal needs to be reached to assure most Americans their taxes won't increase at the end of the year. But he said after that, members of his party should be willing to concede some points to Democrats if a larger compromise can be struck.

"Some of our people think if we dig in and hold strong we can stop it, but that's not the case. It happens automatically," Cole told CNN chief political correspondent Candy Crowley. "You have to do something, and doing something requires the cooperation of the Senate, which the Democrats run, and the signature of the president. So we're not going to get 100% of what we want -- but we can get a lot."

The Oklahoma Republican said a deal that keeps rates low for 98% of Americans would be politically popular, no matter what happens to rates for top earners, as long as voters feel their representatives are fighting for lower taxes generally.

Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican, argued increased revenue should come from reforming the tax code, though such a task seems unlikely in the few weeks remaining before the end-of-the-year deadline.

Republicans in the House would not support a deal that raises tax rates on anyone, she said, pointing to support for increasing revenue "by cleaning up the code."

Earlier this week, House Speaker John Boehner delivered a proposal that offered up to $800 billion in new revenue from closing loopholes and capping deductions for wealthier Americans -- a break from the Republican position that no new tax increases are needed.

"It makes sense to me," Cole said of Boehner's offer, noting it had the support of every major Republican committee chairman. "At the end of the month, taxes go up for everybody. Let's make sure, where we can, we save as many of those tax cuts for as many people as possible and continue to fight."

"It's not waving a white flag to recognize political reality," he said.

Boehner is "a speaker at the peak of his power" who will likely remain in his post for the foreseeable future, Cole stressed.

"This is the first part of a relationship that will stretch for years," he said. "(Boehner and Obama) need each other to succeed. But honestly, the president needs John Boehner more than John Boehner needs the president."

Blackburn said Obama "thinks he has momentum," but is merely "running on adrenaline from the campaign."

Despite the loss of Republican seats in the House and Senate, Blackburn argued voters had affirmed support for the GOP on Election Day.

"The American people have clearly said we don't want our taxes to go up," the Tennessee lawmaker said.

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