More Republicans agree to higher tax rates for the wealthy

Recognizing that President Obama has the upper hand, more Republicans say they're now willing to consider higher tax rates for the wealthy. On Sunday, it was Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee listens during a hearing on Capitol Hill. Senator Corker says he's now willing to consider higher tax rates for the wealthy in return for adjustments to federal entitlement programs.

One by one, Republicans seem to be toppling in the direction of President Obama’s insistence that wealthy Americans pay higher taxes.

On Sunday, it was Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who told “Fox News Sunday” that Republicans likely would have to give in on Mr. Obama’s demand that the Bush-era tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 be allowed to expire at the end of the year. The president, he acknowledged, “has the upper hand on taxes.”

“There is a growing group of folks who are looking at this and realizing we don’t have a lot of cards as it relates to the tax issue before year’s end,” Senator Corker said. “So a lot of people are putting forth a theory, and I think it has merit, where you go ahead and give the president the rate increase on the top 2 percent, and all of a sudden the shift goes back to entitlements.”

In other words, agreeing to let tax rates go back up a couple of percentage points for the rich – but not for working- and middle-class taxpayers, which has been Obama’s position since the beginning of the presidential campaign – gives Republicans leverage in demanding spending cuts. Specifically, that means tightening up on the costs of Social Security and Medicare, something most Democrats oppose.

Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday, Rep. Tom Cole (R) of Oklahoma voiced a similar theme.

His constituents, he said, “would like to be taken out of the line of fire” by an extension of tax cuts for the middle class.

“They expect me to continue to fight for everybody’s taxes not going up,” he said. “But if I can get a deal that protects 98 percent of them and leaves me free to continue fighting for them, they would say, ‘Take that deal, that’s progress, that’s maybe working together across the aisle a little bit, and get it done.’ ”

Representative Cole is urging his Republican colleagues to extend the tax cuts for middle-class earners while negotiating with the White House over a tax rate increase for top earners.

“You know, it’s not waving a white flag to recognize political reality,” he said.

While some Republicans in the Democratic-majority Senate (Susan Collins and Olympic Snowe of Maine among them) have indicated a willingness to let tax rates go back up for the wealthy, the White House is feeling a lot more resistance from the Republican-majority House – where members face more heat (including more frequent reelection challenges) from tea party conservatives.

“No Republican wants to vote for a rate tax increase,” Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R) of Texas, chairman of the House Republican Conference, said Sunday on ABC’s “This Week with George Stephanopoulos.”

Obama’s plan would raise $1.6 trillion in revenue over 10 years, partly by letting decade-old tax cuts on the country’s highest earners expire at the end of the year. He would continue those Bush-era tax cuts for everyone except individuals earning more than $200,000 and couples making more than $250,000. The highest rates on top-paid Americans would rise from 33 percent and 35 percent to 36 percent and 39.6 percent.

House Speaker John Boehner has offered $800 billion in new revenues to be raised by reducing or eliminating unspecified tax breaks on upper-income people. The Republican plan would cut spending by $1.4 trillion, including by trimming annual increases in Social Security payments and raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

This report includes material from the Associated Press.

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