WASHINGTON — For decades, Republican politicians have sought the advice of Tom Cole — when he was chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, a political consultant, the secretary of state and, in the last decade, a congressman.
“He's an excellent political mechanic — one of the best,” Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Tulsa, said last week. “I never question his wisdom when he says something out of the norm. Whenever he comes up with something that I disagree with, I really take another look at it.”
Whether Republicans take another look at their views on tax hikes because of Cole's latest advice was a hot topic here last week.
Cole, R-Moore, suggested privately to Republicans that they accept President Barack Obama's plan to extend income tax cuts for 98 percent of U.S. taxpayers before they're set to expire at the end of December. That would effectively allow tax rates for upper income Americans to rise.
Cole argued that he wasn't advocating for higher tax rates for the wealthy; he's against that. Instead, he said, the large majority of taxpayers should be taken out of harm's way while the president and Republicans grapple over how to get more tax revenue from those in the top tax brackets.
In an interview, Cole noted that the president already was conducting a public-relations campaign to blame Republicans if all of the tax cuts expire and middle-class Americans get hit with large tax bills next year.
He recalled last year's struggle over extending the payroll tax cut, a priority for the president. Republicans fought that and then bowed to public pressure and gave their approval.
Cole said his suggestion about accepting the middle-class tax cuts now came after a colleague asked how Republicans “are going to keep this from blowing up in our face.”
So far, few Republicans have expressed support for his position, though many Democrats have praised it. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, dismissed Cole's suggestion, saying it would mean a tax hike on the small business owners who file returns as individuals.
Despite his lack of GOP allies, Cole hasn't backed off. Nor has he hesitated to explain his position to the media; he's scheduled to appear Sunday on ABC's “This Week.”
Cole's involvement in Oklahoma Republican politics dates to the 1970s and the legislative campaigns of his mother, the late Helen Cole, who served from Moore in the state House and Senate.
He also worked for former U.S. Rep. Mickey Edwards and ran the Oklahoma re-election campaign for former President Ronald Reagan. In 1985, he was elected chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, building the party's finances and grass-roots organization before leaving to start his own consulting company with Sharon Hargrave Caldwell and Deby Snodgrass.
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At a glance
Rep. Tom Cole
Republican, first elected to the U.S. House in 2002
• Age: 63
• Home: Moore
• Committees: Appropriations, Budget
• Previous positions: Oklahoma state senator, Oklahoma secretary of state, political consultant, chief of staff for Republican National Committee, chairman of Oklahoma Republican Party
• Education: B.A. from Grinnell College; M.A. from Yale University; Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma.