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First Cracks Open in GOP On Tax Rates

A Few Key Republicans Now Appear Willing to Tax Rich

  • FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama acknowledges House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio while speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, as he hosted a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the deficit and economy. A big coalition of business groups says there must be give-and-take in the negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of massive tax hikes and spending cuts. But the coalition also says raising tax rates is out of the question. The group doesn’t care that President Barack Obama campaigned to raise tax rates on the rich. The same song is sung by groups representing retirees, colleges and countless others. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

    FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama acknowledges House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio while speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, as he hosted a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the deficit and economy. A big coalition of business groups says there must be give-and-take in the negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of massive tax hikes and spending cuts. But the coalition also says raising tax rates is out of the question. The group doesn’t care that President Barack Obama campaigned to raise tax rates on the rich. The same song is sung by groups representing retirees, colleges and countless others. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)

  • Naked AIDS activists, with painted slogans on their bodies, protest inside the lobby of the Capitol Hill office of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, prior to World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. Three women AIDS activists saying they wanted to highlight the “naked truth” about potential spending cuts in HIV programs were arrested after taking their clothes off in the lobby Boehner's office. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    Naked AIDS activists, with painted slogans on their bodies, protest inside the lobby of the Capitol Hill office of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, prior to World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. Three women AIDS activists saying they wanted to highlight the “naked truth” about potential spending cuts in HIV programs were arrested after taking their clothes off in the lobby Boehner's office. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2012, file photo, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., incoming Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, as incoming Minority Whip, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listen. Moran hasn't officially taken over as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee yet, but he already finds himself defending a potential nominee who's widely popular in her state while trying to avoid alienating influential players on the party's right flank. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg, File)

    FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2012, file photo, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., incoming Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, as incoming Minority Whip, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listen. Moran hasn't officially taken over as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee yet, but he already finds himself defending a potential nominee who's widely popular in her state while trying to avoid alienating influential players on the party's right flank. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg, File)

  • Bo, the Obama family pet, is replicated on the nearly 300-pound gingerbread house of the White House on display in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The theme for the White House Christmas 2012 is Joy to All. The White House gingerbread house has been a tradition since the 1960s. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

    Bo, the Obama family pet, is replicated on the nearly 300-pound gingerbread house of the White House on display in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The theme for the White House Christmas 2012 is Joy to All. The White House gingerbread house has been a tradition since the 1960s. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

  • Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, following a closed-door meeting House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

    Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, following a closed-door meeting House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

  • FILE - In this Nov. 16, 2012, file photo, President Barack Obama acknowledges House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio while speaking to reporters in the Roosevelt Room of the White House in Washington, as he hosted a meeting of the bipartisan, bicameral leadership of Congress to discuss the deficit and economy. A big coalition of business groups says there must be give-and-take in the negotiations to avoid the "fiscal cliff" of massive tax hikes and spending cuts. But the coalition also says raising tax rates is out of the question. The group doesn’t care that President Barack Obama campaigned to raise tax rates on the rich. The same song is sung by groups representing retirees, colleges and countless others. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster, File)
  • Naked AIDS activists, with painted slogans on their bodies, protest inside the lobby of the Capitol Hill office of House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Tuesday, Nov. 27, 2012, prior to World AIDS Day, Dec. 1. Three women AIDS activists saying they wanted to highlight the “naked truth” about potential spending cuts in HIV programs were arrested after taking their clothes off in the lobby Boehner's office. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
  • FILE - In this Nov. 14, 2012, file photo, Sen. Jerry Moran, R-Kan., incoming Chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, speaks to reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, as incoming Minority Whip, Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and Minority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., listen. Moran hasn't officially taken over as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee yet, but he already finds himself defending a potential nominee who's widely popular in her state while trying to avoid alienating influential players on the party's right flank. (AP Photo/Harry Hamburg, File)
  • Bo, the Obama family pet, is replicated on the nearly 300-pound gingerbread house of the White House on display in the State Dining Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012. The theme for the White House Christmas 2012 is Joy to All. The White House gingerbread house has been a tradition since the 1960s. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
  • Former White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, co-chair of the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, is pursued by reporters on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, following a closed-door meeting House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio.  (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

— The first cracks are developing among Republicans over whether to accept a quick deal with President Obama on allowing the top two income tax rates to expire, even as an administration official said the White House was stepping up behind-the-scenes negotiations.

Conservative Oklahoma GOP Rep. Tom Cole told GOP colleagues in a private meeting that it’s better to make sure that tax cuts for the 98 percent of taxpayers who make less than $200,000 or $250,000 a year are extended than to battle it out with Obama and risk increasing taxes on everyone.

Cole’s remarks are noteworthy because he’s a longtime GOP loyalist and a confidant of House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio. They were made in a meeting of the House GOP Republican whip team, which is a sounding board for GOP leaders.

“If we don’t believe taxes should go up on anybody, why can’t we accept a deal that takes 98 percent out and still leaves us free to fight on the other grounds,” Cole said in an interview yesterday. “I’m not for using the American people for leverage or as a hostage.”

Meanwhile, an administration official speaking on grounds of anonymity told The Associated Press that two of Obama’s top negotiators on the fiscal issues will meet separately Thursday with leading lawmakers.

The sessions are seen as an important step in determining how the government will avoid a year-end package of tax increases and spending cuts that could throw the economy into recession.

Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House legislative chief Rob Nabors will meet with House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi of California, said the official, who said he could not speak on the record because the meetings had not yet been publicly announced.

Some Republicans on the Hill have been worried that the GOP would lose a bargaining advantage by separating tax cuts for the highest earners from everyone else, but Cole said he believes the reverse is true. “I think we have the winning argument,” he said. “Most Americans intuitively understand that raising taxes on small business is costing them jobs.”

Cole’s comments drew a rebuke from Boehner, who is standing firm against Obama’s demand that tax rates go up for top earners.

“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 taxpayers are small business owners,” Boehner said. “You’re not going to grow the economy if you raise the top two rates. It’ll hurt small business. It’ll hurt our economy.”

Cole said he expects to support whatever deficit-cutting deal Boehner is eventually able to negotiate with the White House as the two sides wrangle over how to avoid the “fiscal cliff” mix of tax increases and spending cuts that will occur automatically in January unless lawmakers avert them.

“This is a tactical argument, this is not a theological argument,” Cole said. “We don’t disagree on what we’re trying to do.”