GOP cracks in higher taxes for the wealthy?

House Speaker John Boehner has joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in signaling that the Bush-era tax cuts for 'millionaires and billionaires' – President Obama’s favorite campaign target for additional federal revenues – should be allowed to expire at year’s end.

Scott Applewhite/AP
House Speaker John Boehner walks to a closed-door meeting with the GOP caucus Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Rep. Boehner has indicated a willingness to raise tax rates on the wealthy.

Is that a crack appearing in Republican opposition to higher tax rates for the wealthy? Are GOP leaders in Congress wobbling in President Obama’s direction as a means of avoiding the “fiscal cliff?”

House Speaker John Boehner, it seems, has joined Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in signaling that the Bush-era tax cuts for “millionaires and billionaires” – Obama’s favorite campaign target for additional federal revenues – should be allowed to expire at year’s end.

As first reported by Politico.com Saturday, Mr. Boehner proposes raising tax rates for the wealthiest Americans, in return for “major entitlement cuts” – reduced cost-of-living increases in Social Security payments and raising the eligibility age for Medicare.

The tax rate numbers differ from Obama’s; the President has wanted to let the tax cut expire for households earning more than $250,000.

FISCAL CLIFF 101: 5 basic questions answered

But as the fiscal cliff looms (automatic tax increases and across-the-board budget cuts), a growing number of Republicans – particularly in the Senate – have signaled a willingness to accept higher taxes for the wealthy.

On Fox News a week ago, Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee acknowledged that Obama “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.

A few days later, Sen. McConnell said as much in meeting with lobbyists.

“The idea would be to advance two bills, giving each party an opportunity to vote on the approach they favored, but only one would be signed into law: The extension of the Bush-era rates for families who earn less than $250,000 annually,” Politico.com reported.

Now comes Boehner’s proposal – reportedly discussed in a phone conversation with Obama on Friday – bumping that tax rate hike up to millionaires (which has a nice rhetorical ring no doubt pleasing to the President’s ear).

As usual, the devil will be in the details, especially since Boehner insists on including entitlements in any such deal, and especially since it’s just two weeks until the symbolic deadline with major holidays in between.

Still, the incoming House Rules Committee chairman, Representative Pete Sessions of Texas, told Bloomberg News that congressional Republicans would be willing to accept an increase in tax rates for top earners if Democrats make significant reductions in entitlement programs.

“If it’s a good deal, yes,” Rep. Sessions said in a Dec. 14 interview on Bloomberg Television’s “Political Capital With Al Hunt.

From the Democratic side, the toughest part will be getting leaders Rep. Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Harry Reid, and others to agree to squeezing future savings out of Social Security and Medicare.

But on tax rates for the wealthiest, the ice seems to be cracking, and recent public opinion polls show why.

In order to avoid the fiscal cliff, 76 percent of adults – including a substantial 61 percent of Republicans – would accept a higher tax rate for those making more than Obama’s $250,000 figure, according to the most recent Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll.

 A new McClatchy-Marist Poll shows essentially the same thing: By 57-40 percent, voters support letting the Bush tax cuts expire for individual income above $200,000 and family income above $250,000.

FISCAL CLIFF 101: 5 basic questions answered

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