Tom Cole: Who Is the Republican Congressman Making Waves in 'Fiscal Cliff' Negotiations?
Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) made headlines this week when suggested that his Republican colleagues should join with President Obama on a quick "fiscal cliff" fix by voting to extend the Bush tax-rates for everyone but the highest income earners, and leave the rest of the debate for later.
Cole's plan, which was first reported by Politico, was rejected by House Speaker John Boehner, who told reporters, "I disagreed with him…This is not the right approach." But his comments have gotten a lot of attention, and both Republicans and (perhaps less surprisingly) Democrats have come forward to say they agree with Cole.
"I have to say that if you're going to sign me up with a camp, I like what Tom Cole has to say," California Republican Rep. Mary Bono Mack said on CNN on Thursday.
"I'm hopeful that he can persuade other Republicans to do the right thing for middle class families and small business across the country," Democratic Senator Patty Murray told reporters on Wednesday.
One question likely being asked by Americans watching the 'fiscal cliff' negotiations going on in Congress, though is: Who is Tom Cole?
Cole, 63, represents Oklahoma's fourth congressional district in Congress. He was first elected in 2002 and he's about to start his sixth term. Cole is not at the tip-top of his party's ranks but he is in the leadership. He serves as as Deputy Whip. Cole is currently the only registered Native American in Congress.
The Oklahoma congressman may not have served in public office for as long as many of his Republican colleagues, but he's been a key figure in national Republican politics for some time. Before he was elected to Congress, Cole served as the executive director of the National Republican Congressional Committee, and as the chief of staff at the Republican National Committee.
As a Congressman, Cole has signed the so-called Norquist pledge- officially titled the Taxpayer Protection Pledge, which calls on members of Congress to oppose any and all tax increases. Cole told Politico that he believes a vote to extend the Bush tax cuts to 98 percent of taxpayers, leaving out the top earners, would not violate the pledge.
"I think we ought to take the 98 percent deal right now," he said. "It doesn't mean I agree with raising the top 2."
Cole's depth of experience, both as a member of Congress and as a top staffer, has earned him respect from his party, and as a result his suggestion for avoiding the fiscal cliff is significant on a symbolic level.
The bigger question - whether his suggestion will have a tangible effect - is unclear. Because he is not in a top leadership role, the likelihood that his plan would be adopted as an official approach for the GOP is slim.
Nevertheless, if Cole begins to build up a following, so to speak, of Republicans who come forward and say they agree with him, then it's possible you could see the leadership reconsider. A lot can happen in 33 days.
Rep. Cole will be a guest on "This Week with George Stephanopoulos" this coming Sunday, December 2nd.