WASHINGTON — Rep. Tom Cole says he was just responding to a question from a colleague about the political calculations for Republicans in the ongoing budget negotiations.
But Cole's response — that Republicans should accept a deal to retain tax cuts for the middle class and fight over the tax rates for the upper brackets later — generated a media frenzy here and an unequivocal rejection from the top Republican in the House.
“They asked for my opinion and I gave it,” said Cole, R-Moore.
That opinion, given privately Tuesday to a subgroup of House Republican leaders known as “whips,” was leaked to some national reporters, and Cole's position was characterized as a break from the GOP position to hold the line on tax increases for all brackets as the parties negotiate on taxes and spending cuts.
Cole said in an interview that he wasn't advocating higher taxes on the wealthy, as are President Barack Obama and congressional Democrats.
He was, he said, pushing for the immediate and permanent extension of tax cuts for 98 percent of taxpayers to ease concerns before the end-of-the-year deadline. If Congress takes no action before Jan. 1, tax rates for everyone will rise.
“We should take the 98 percent of taxpayers out of harm's way,” Cole said. “We should remove their risk.
“I don't see the need in making them think their tax rates might go up. … It's just not right to use the American people as leverage in the debate.”
Preserving the tax cuts now for the large majority of taxpayers, Cole said, doesn't mean Republicans couldn't continue to fight for retaining the tax cuts for those families making $250,000 or more per year.
“Let's get the women and children off the battlefield and let's keep the fight up,” he said.
Cole made his argument Wednesday to a closed-session of House Republicans, some of whom later labeled it a nonstarter.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters after the meeting, “I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him.
“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 people are small business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year. The goal here is to grow the economy and to cut spending.”