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A growing number of Republican lawmakers are reluctantly concluding they will have to abandon their bedrock opposition to increased tax rates to get an agreement that avoids the fiscal cliff.
No GOP leader has publicly surrendered on President Barack Obama’s demand for higher upper-bracket tax rates, but Republicans are wavering. Some have spoken in favor of extending tax cuts for all but the top two income tax brackets, and others have left the door open to accepting that idea if Democrats make concessions on spending.
Both parties are heavily engaged in positioning and arranging their political cover for momentous votes that lie ahead. “I think there’s going to be a lot of jockeying between now and the end of the period whenever it is,” Georgia Republican Sen. Saxby Chambliss said.
One of the first Republicans to cross the tax hike line was Oklahoma Rep. Tom Cole, who advocated extending lower-bracket rates now in order to remove uncertainty and put off the battle over rates for incomes above $250,000. And Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., speaking on MSNBC this week, parted company with many in his party by saying he would rather increase tax rates than limit deductions because action on tax breaks now would make a future tax overhaul more difficult.
Democrats have been quick to exploit each break in GOP ranks, dispatching emails with quotes from any GOP lawmaker who indicates a willingness to accept higher rates as part of a fiscal bargain.
The White House indicated Thursday that Republican acceptance of higher tax rates remains a necessary part of any agreement. “We have seen increasing numbers of Republicans, including elected lawmakers, acknowledge that raising rates is going to have to be part of this, and we welcome that acknowledgement. That’s progress,” White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said.
Although Carney said discussions are ongoing, there was no sign of an imminent end to the standoff.
The Republican negotiating posture appeared to be evolving Thursday as the Jan. 1 cliff deadline approaches, and most in the GOP were reluctant to address the issue of tax rates, which continued to appear the largest obstacle to cutting a deal.
A bipartisan group of House lawmakers including Heath Shuler, D-N.C., Jim Cooper, D-Tenn., Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Steven C. LaTourette, R-Ill., are circulating a letter urging congressional leaders to put “all options for mandatory and discretionary spending and revenues” on the table. None of the letter’s authors was willing to discuss their efforts Thursday.
Some Republicans in both chambers were reacting to colleagues’ uncertainty by doubling down on their tax hike opposition.