U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., thinks he was only stating the obvious when he told a roomful of Republican members of Congress they should go along with Democrats in making temporary tax-rate reductions permanent for 98 percent of Americans.
"I don't want rates raised for anybody," Cole said by telephone Wednesday afternoon. "I think it's bad economics. I think it's bad for job creation. ... Having said that, if the president is willing to take 80 percent of the tax cuts for 98 percent of the people and still leave us free to continue our discussion, ... I'd say, 'Fine, let's get that off the table and settle for that.' "
Cole said fighting over permanent tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income-earners is diverting attention from "the real issue" -- spending cuts and entitlement reform -- and is a public relations problem for Republicans.
Cole, of Moore, who represents the state's 4th District, said it is also "the right thing to do for people."
Average Americans, he said, "shouldn't have to worry about, over the holidays, ... that you might be looking at a $2,000 tax increase. You're trying to support your family, pay for your house, make your car payments. If we can take that worry out of your life, it seems to me we ought to do that."
This particular debate involves the expiration of "temporary" tax-rate reductions that were enacted during President George W. Bush's first term. Republicans have been trying to make the reductions permanent ever since, while Democrats want them to expire for high-end earners.
Without action by Dec. 31, the temporary rates will expire, and most taxpayers will see income-tax increases of 3 to 5 percentage points. The expiring tax rates are part of the so-called "fiscal cliff" -- a combination of tax and spending measures that are scheduled to kick in automatically on Jan. 1.
Cole said he voiced his opinion on the subject in closed meetings twice during recent weeks. After the second time, he was approached "within 20 minutes" by a reporter who had been told what Cole had said.
This led to speculation that Cole's comments were sent up as a "trial balloon" to gauge public response. Cole said that was not the case.
"It wasn't a planned deal," he said.
Cole said he had not intended for his opinion to become public but that, on the other hand, he "didn't say anything I wouldn't say to any constituent who asked me."
Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, publicly disagreed with Cole on the matter and reportedly told him that in front of the Republican caucus at a meeting Tuesday. Republican leaders want any revenue increases to come from a tightening of the tax code rather than an increase in tax rates.
Cole said he accepts that Boehner and other Republicans disagree with him but said, "I still think I'm right."
"I do think the proposal I've made is the appropriate way forward. The president, by focusing on this, has been pretty disingenuous.
"The real issue here is: Let's start talking about spending cuts; let's start talking about entitlement reform. He leaves the impression that if you let the taxes go up on these 2 percent it'll take care of our budget problems. It won't come close. Everybody who knows the budget knows that.
"You've got to reform these programs. You've got to put in really strong spending restraints. And you've got to do things that get the economy moving so it creates jobs and generates revenue. ... We need to get on to that debate, and settling this tax issue for 98 percent of the people is the way to get there."
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