Did John Boehner blink on tax cuts for the rich?

House Republican leader John Boehner said he’d vote to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans even if the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy were allowed to expire. Did he mean it, or was it a calculated move to get President Obama off his back?

By , Staff Writer

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    House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio speaks in Cleveland last month. On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, Boehner said he’d vote to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans even if the Bush tax cuts for the richest three percent were allowed to expire.
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Did John Boehner just blink on tax cuts for the rich? Or was it a calculated move to get President Obama off his back?

On CBS' "Face the Nation" Sunday, House Republican leader Boehner said that if he had to, he’d vote to extend tax cuts for middle-class Americans (those making no more than $250,000 a year) even if the Bush tax cuts for the richest three percent were allowed to expire.

“If the only option I have is to vote for those at $250,000 and below, of course I'm going to do that,” Boehner told “Face the Nation” host Bob Schieffer.

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On the surface, that can’t have been easy for the Republican to admit, even though the Congressional Budget Office estimates that extending tax cuts for the wealthy would cost the federal treasury $700 billion over the next ten years.

“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,” he told Schieffer. “I’m going to do everything I can to fight to make sure that we extend the current tax rates for all Americans.”

Still, Boehner’s willingness to accept less than that is noteworthy – especially when some Democrats, including former White House budget director Peter Orszag, have said they might compromise by going along with extending the Bush tax cuts for all income levels. (At least for a while.)

“At least a dozen House Democrats, several Democratic candidates and four Democratic senators – Evan Bayh of Indiana, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Joe Lieberman of Connecticut and Kent Conrad of North Dakota – have said they won't go along with the president's plan to allow the cuts to expire for the wealthiest Americans,” reports Patricia Murphy at Politics Daily.

But that hasn’t deterred President Obama from hammering away at the GOP – and especially John Boehner – over the tax issue. If anything, it’s energized him as he becomes more involved in campaigning for the midterm elections, which are an important referendum on his first two years in office.

In a speech this past week in Parma, Ohio – Boehner’s political backyard – Obama referring to Boehner by name eight times. And he was especially derisive on taxes.

“I believe we ought to make the tax cuts for the middle class permanent,” Obama said. “But the Republican leader of the House doesn’t want to stop there…. He and his party believe we should also give a permanent tax cut to the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.”

“So let me be clear to Mr. Boehner and everybody else,” he said. “We should not hold middle-class tax cuts hostage any longer. We are ready, this week, if they want, to give tax cuts to every American making $250,000 or less. That's 98-97 percent of Americans.”

But Mike Allen at Politico.com detects a more calculating motive behind Boehner’s apparent backing down on tax cuts for the wealthy. He quotes a Boehner aide:

“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.”

[UPDATE: Late Sunday afternoon, White House press secretary Robert Gibbs issued this statement: "We welcome John Boehner's change in position and support for the middle class tax cuts, but time will tell if his actions will be anything but continued support for the failed policies that got us into this mess."]

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