House GOP Leader Boehner Softens on Bush Tax Cuts For Wealthy

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House Republican leader John Boehner, one of President Barack Obama's most nettlesome opponents, said Sunday that he would be willing to forgo extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy -- those making more than $250,000 per year -- if a vote on reducing taxes for the rest of Americans came up.

Boehner said he'd continue fighting to extend the tax cuts for the rich, but wouldn't hold up extending tax cuts for the 97% of Americans who make less than $250,000 -- a measure that Obama has pledged to sign as early as this month.

"If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for it," Boehner told CBS News chief Washington correspondent Bob Schieffer on "Face the Nation," in comments cited by Reuters.

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

Compromise or Gamesmanship?

It was the first sign of a compromise by the House GOP leadership on an issue quickly becoming central to the upcoming mid-term election -- the extension of Bush-era tax cuts, which Republicans have said are necessary to spur growth, and Democrats say would add billions to the deficit.

"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," Boehner said.

On Friday, Obama said he would be willing to make the Bush tax cuts permanent for 97% of Americans, or those making less than $250,000 per year. Obama practically goaded GOP leaders to oppose such a move, saying they were holding middle-class tax cuts "hostage."

But Obama stood firm on not extending the cuts for income above $250,000 -- a key Republican priority, and now Boehner appears to have opened the door for a deal.

"With all the other budgetary pressures we have - with all the Republicans' talk about wanting to shrink the deficit - they would have us borrow $700 billion over the next 10 years to give a tax cut of about $100,000 each to folks who are already millionaires," Obama said earlier in the week in comments cited by CBS News.
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Rhetorical Maneuvering

In a statement to Politico, a top Boehner aide amplified his remarks: "Despite what Obama says, Republicans are not holding middle-class tax cuts hostage and we're not going to let him get away with those types of false claims. Our focus remains on getting bipartisan support for a freeze on all current rates, because that is what is best for the economy and small business job creation. Boehner's words were calculated to deprive Obama of the ability to continue making those false claims, and as a result we are in a better position rhetorically to pressure more Democrats to support a full freeze."

Boehner made clear that he still favors extending the tax cut for the wealthy.

"I think raising taxes in a very weak economy is a really, really bad idea, and most economists would agree with that," Boehner, R-Ohio, told Schieffer. "And I just think that if we're going to extend the tax cuts for some Americans, why don't we extend these current tax rates to all Americans, and get rid of some of the uncertainty that's out there, so that small businesses can plan, and reinvest in their business, and the new economy?"

Meanwhile, Boehner pushed back against a Sunday New York Times article that portrayed him as cozy with some of Washington's most powerful corporate lobbyists. Boehner's camp called the article a "hatchet job."
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