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Has John Boehner really agreed to increase taxes on the rich?

Since the election, House Speaker John Boehner (R) has had some conciliatory-sounding words about the need to avoid the 'fiscal cliff.' While he's said 'new revenue' might be part of the solution, it's problematic to assume he means higher taxes on the rich.

By Staff writer / November 15, 2012

Speaker of the House John Boehner (R) of Ohio, speaks to reporters after the House Republicans voted for their leadership for the next session of Congress, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday. Boehner has said 'new revenue' might be part of the solution needed to avoid 'fiscal cliff, it's problematic to assume he means higher taxes on the rich.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Has speaker of the House John Boehner really agreed to increase taxes on the wealthy in some manner to help strike a fiscal deal with President Obama? That’s a crucial question as congressional Republicans and administration officials get ready for face-to-face negotiations Friday over the so-called “fiscal cliff” crisis facing the US.

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Washington Editor

Peter Grier is The Christian Science Monitor's Washington editor. In this capacity, he helps direct coverage for the paper on most news events in the nation's capital.

Washington’s conventional wisdom is that Speaker Boehner has telegraphed his willingness to give a bit on this issue after years of GOP insistence that it wouldn’t accept higher taxes on anyone, millionaires included. The punditocracy bases this conclusion on the public statements Boehner has made since the election, which have been carefully worded but conciliatory in tone.

Take Boehner’s public statement of Nov. 7, in which he congratulated Mr. Obama on winning a second term, and said that when it came to producing a deficit-reduction package to keep the automatic spending cuts and tax hikes of the fiscal cliff from taking effect, House Republicans would be willing to accept new revenue, under the right conditions.

“What matters is where the increased revenue comes from, and what type of reform comes with it,” Boehner said. “Does the increased revenue come from government taking a larger share of what the American people earn through higher tax rates? Or does it come as the byproduct of a growing economy, energized by a simpler, cleaner, fairer tax code, with fewer loopholes, and lower rates for all?”

Since then, both Boehner and Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell have clarified this a bit by insisting that they are not in favor of letting the Bush-era tax cuts expire for those making $250,000 or more a year, as Obama has proposed. Many people in that tax bracket are small-business owners whose firms would be damaged by such a hike, according to the GOP.

“What we won’t do is raise tax rates, and kiss goodbye more than 700,000 good jobs in the process,” said Senator McConnell in a floor statement on Nov. 15.

Carefully parsed, these statements leave open the possibility that Republicans would agree to increase revenues from the wealthy through a cap on deductions or some other non-marginal-rate-increase means. As we’ve written, this is something GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney proposed as part of his own tax reform package. That might make it easier for GOP backbenchers to accept.

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