Did Boehner Blink? GOP Leader Signals Possible Support for Bush Tax Cut Extensions Just for Lower Incomes

By Dschabner

Sep 12, 2010 4:50pm

The House Minority Leader this morning signaled that he would vote for a bill to extend those tax cuts to those who make less than $200,000 per person/$250,000 per couple, even  if it does not include a provision extending those tax cuts to wealthier Americans.

Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, said on CBS’s Face the Nation that "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for it. But I've been making the point now for months that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans if we want to get our economy going again, and we want to get jobs in America."

Pressed again by host Bob Schieffer, Boehner said, "If the only option I have is to vote for those at $250,000 and below, of course I'm going to do that. But I'm going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans."

In recent days, President Obama, hoping to turn the mid-term elections from a referendum on him and Democrats to a choice between unpopular Democrats and unpopular Republicans, has in his rhetoric tried to put Boehner on the ballot. On Thursday, making an issue of the Bush tax cuts, which are set to expire at the end of the year, the president said, "Let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everyone else:  We should not hold middle class tax cuts hostage any longer.  We are ready, this week, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less."

A House GOP leadership source said that "Boehner's words were calculated strategically to deprive Obama of the ability to continue making false claims about Republicans holding middle class tax cuts hostage."

The aide acknowledged that Boehner's words provide "an opening that could lead to some sort of bipartisan discussion of the issue, but Boehner also made very clear that Republicans continue to believe we should freeze all the tax rates if we're going to get serious about small business job creation because Obama's plan hurts small businesses.  So our focus remains the same: getting bipartisan support for a freeze on all current rates, which is one of the two things Boehner outlined last week that we should do immediately in September."

Boehner hopes that by voicing a willingness to compromise he can re-focus attention on the divisions within the Democratic party on this issue. It's unclear if Senate Democrats have enough votes to allow the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans to expire, given the support for those tax cuts continuing recently voiced by Sens. Evan Bayh, D-Ind.,  Kent Conrad, D-N.D., Ben Nelson, D-Neb., and possibly Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn.

Obama has also shown some willingness to negotiate on the issue. In an interview with George Stephanopoulos last week, the president refused to say he’d veto a bill extending the Bush tax cuts to the top two tax brackets.

UPDATE: The White House put out a statement late today "on Representative Boehner’s Change in Position on Tax Cuts for the Middle Class."

"We welcome John Boehner's change in position and support for the middle class tax cuts, but time will tell if his actions will be anything but continued support for the failed policies that got us into this mess," the statement from White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said.

UPDATE: Boehner issued the following statement in response to Gibbs' statement:

"Raising taxes on any American, and especially small businesses, in a struggling economy is the exact wrong thing to do, a position shared by not only by my Republican colleagues, and several of my Democratic colleagues, but by a vast number of economists.

"If the president is serious about job creation, there's a clear way forward, and that's for us to come together and pass legislation immediately that cuts spending to 2008 levels for the next year and stops all of the coming tax hikes by freezing all current tax rates for the next two years. Anything short of that may selfishly check a political box for the president, but it fails the American people.

"Instead of resorting to tired old class warfare rhetoric, pitting one working American against another, the president and the Democratic leadership should start working with us this week to ensure a fair and open debate to pass legislation to cut spending and freeze tax rates without any further delay."

– Jake Tapper

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