Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a staunch conservative and senior House Republican, believes it's time for his caucus to take President Obama's offer on middle class tax cuts. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a predictable response.
"I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him," Boehner told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. "He's a wonderful friend of mine and a great supporter of mine. But raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent -- half of those people are small-business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year. The goal here is to grow the economy and to cut spending.
"We're not going to grow the economy if we raise tax rates on the top two rates," the Speaker added.
There's quite a bit wrong with Boehner's analysis -- including his misguided understanding of small businesses -- but let's pause for a moment to take a stroll down memory lane.
About two years ago, Washington was in a similar position. President Obama wanted to keep tax breaks in place on income up to $250,000, while allowing Clinton-era rates on higher income, while Boehner wanted lower rates on all income, no matter the cost. On "Face the Nation," the House Republican leader slipped and accidentally said what was actually on his mind.
Asked whether he could back lower tax rates on the middle class, while allowing breaks for the wealthy to expire on schedule, Boehner said, "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for them."
In other words, if Obama's offer of tax breaks for 98% of the country was the best Boehner could get out of the White House, he'd take it.
Soon after, Boehner was told by his caucus that his position was unacceptable, and he quickly backpedaled, but not before we got a good look at the Republican leader's instincts.
Ultimately, Boehner thought Obama could be persuaded, and they worked out a deal that extended the lower rates. But 2012 isn't 2010. The question then becomes how long it'll take for the Speaker to once again conclude, "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for them."