Republican Cole Breaks Party Ranks On Fiscal Cliff

President Obama wants House Republicans to simply pass tax-cut extensions for most Americans and argue about the rich later. It looks like he's found at least one ally — Oklahoma congressman Tom Cole.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


I'm Melissa Block.

And we begin this hour with the nation's fiscal crisis. Congress and the White House have just 34 days to end the debate over revenue hikes and entitlement cuts and steer us clear of the fiscal cliff.

SIEGEL: In a moment, we'll hear from the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi, but first, a surprise from one of the top Republicans in the House. He broke ranks with his GOP colleagues. While they are holding out for an extension of all Bush-era tax cuts, Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole told members of the leadership team yesterday that they should hurry up and extend tax cuts for the bottom 98 percent of taxpayers.

BLOCK: As for the top 2 percent, Cole argues, Congress can worry about them later. NPR's David Welna caught up with Cole today and has this report.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Oklahoma Republican Tom Cole just got re-elected to a sixth term in the House. He serves there as the GOP majority's deputy whip, and he's a close friend of Speaker John Boehner, which is why a lot of his colleagues were surprised when Politico first reported that Cole urged his colleagues in a closed-door meeting to approve an extension this year of all the expiring tax cuts except those that affect only the top 2 percent.

REPRESENTATIVE THOMAS JEFFERY COLE: We have an opportunity to make sure that the tax rates for 98 percent of the American people don't go up. I think we should do that sooner rather than later.

WELNA: That's Cole this afternoon.

COLE: I'm not trying to persuade anybody. I was asked: In my opinion, what's the best position for us to take? You know, what's in the best interest of the American people? What's in the best interest politically? I think that position that I outlined - that is, making sure that 98 percent of the American people have tax security, so to speak, and then continuing to fight on the other issues, and it doesn't mean giving in to rate increases. I don't believe in that. That's the right thing to do.

WELNA: A bird in the hand, Cole adds, is better than two in the tree. The last thing he wants is for taxes to go up for everyone because of Congress' failure to act. Asked earlier today about Cole's apparent apostasy, Speaker Boehner said he told Cole at a meeting this morning he disagreed with him.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: 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 taxpayers 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 control spending. You're not going to grow the economy if you raise tax rates on the top two rates.

WELNA: Cole, for his part, simply shrugs off Boehner's public disagreement with him.

COLE: It's a tactical disagreement. We don't disagree about theology, and we also, by the way, don't disagree about who the speaker is. He's the speaker.

WELNA: At the White House today, President Obama pointed to a bill already passed by the Senate that locks in the tax rates most people pay.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Right now, as we speak, Congress can pass a law that would prevent a tax hike on the first $250,000 of everybody's income - everybody's. And that means that 98 percent of Americans and 97 percent of small businesses wouldn't see their income taxes go up by a single dime.

WELNA: But Cole says his fellow House Republicans would only take up such a bill if it had the speaker's full support.

COLE: The president needs to understand this is not Spielberg's "Lincoln." He's not going to pick off congressmen one at a time. He has to sit down with the speaker and negotiate an agreement.

WELNA: And how have Cole's fellow House Republicans reacted to his stance on taxes?

COLE: It's a mixture. It's everything from, hey, Tom, I love you, but I think you're wrong, to hey, I love you, and I think you're right, but I don't got to say it out loud or - yeah, it's fine, look, this is a discussion about what the best tactic it is. It isn't a division over what we think, and it won't play itself out on the floor in some way that divides the Republican conference.

WELNA: Still, a crack has appeared in GOP unity on taxes. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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