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Boehner backs tax cuts limited to middle class

The top Republican in the House said on Sunday he would support an extension of tax cuts for middle-class Americans even if tax cuts for the wealthy are allowed to expire.
/ Source: The Associated Press

House Republican leader John Boehner says he would support extending tax cuts only for middle-class earners even though he considers it "bad policy" to exclude the highest-earning Americans from tax relief during a recession.

One of President Barack Obama's chief economic advisers said Sunday he was happy that Boehner, R-Ohio, isn't willing to hold hostage an extension of tax cuts for those earning under $250,000 a year, or more than 97 percent of earners, to try to gain a continuation of breaks enjoyed by the wealthiest.

With congressional elections less than two months away, both parties would like to try to score points with voters generally unhappy with Congress. Democrats are bearing the brunt of voter anger over a stubborn recession, a weak job market and a high-spending government, giving the GOP an opening for taking back control of the House and possibly the Senate.

Democratic leaders would relish putting up a bill that extends only the middle-class tax cuts and then daring Republicans to oppose it. In response, GOP lawmakers probably would try to force votes on amendments that would extend all the tax cuts and then point to those who rejected them.

The tax-cut argument between Obama and Republican lawmakers focuses on whether the debt-ridden country can afford to continue President George W. Bush's tax breaks, which were designed to expire next year. Republicans contend that cutting back on government spending ought to be the focus of efforts aimed at beginning to balance the federal budget.

"I want to do something for all Americans who pay taxes," Boehner said in an interview taped Saturday for "Face the Nation" on CBS. "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for it. ... If that's what we can get done, but I think that's bad policy. I don't think that's going to help our economy."

If Republicans regain control of the House, they would remove Democrat Nancy Pelosi of California as speaker, a position that is second in line to the presidency after the vice president. Boehner would be the most likely successor, which places him in the cross hairs of Democrats' re-election efforts.

Obama himself has been leading the charge against Boehner, traveling last week to the Republican minority leader's home state to accuse him of offering little but stale ideas that led to the economic meltdown.

In keeping with that tactic, the Democratic National Committee said Sunday it plans to begin airing an ad Tuesday in Washington and on national cable that portrays Boehner as a supporter of tax cuts for the wealthy and a foe of spending for teachers, police officers and firefighters.

"Boehner has a different plan," the ad states. "Tax cuts for businesses and those that shift jobs and profits overseas. Saving multinational corporations 10 billion."

Austan Goolsbee, the new chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, said on ABC's "This Week" that he hopes that Democratic lawmakers who also want an across-the-board extension will join Obama and others in the party in supporting legislation aimed at the middle class before the November elections.

In response to Boehner's comments, Goolsbee said, "If he's for that, I would be happy."

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said the change of position by Boehner was welcome "but time will tell if his actions will be anything but continued support for the failed policies that got us into this mess."

At a White House news conference Friday, Obama described the Republican proposal for a tax extension for the highest of earners as an effort "to give an average of $100,000 to millionaires." Instead, he said, both parties should move forward on their areas of agreement.