Congressional Republicans Wednesday seized on comments from former President Bill Clinton - who suggested a day earlier he could support a short term extension of all the so-called "Bush" tax rates set to expire at the end of the year.
GOP leaders said they wanted a minimum one year extension of all of the current tax cuts, and cited Clinton's remarks in order to put pressure on Democrats who favor just continuing the tax breaks for the middle class. Republicans argued that no changes should be made to tax rates at a time when the economy is still fragile.
House Speaker John Boehner said the rates should be extended "at least a year" to give employers financial certainty. Republicans have been discussing options for what kind of short term extension they would push as they work toward a broader tax reform measure next year. But it was the first time Boehner publicly stated he wanted the one year extension.
In an interview on CNBC on Tuesday, Clinton said he believed the major fight over taxes would be put off until next year due to the economic situation, and said "I don't have any problem with extending all of it now" -- referring to the tax rates. Even though Clinton made it clear in the same interview that he did not support making the Bush tax cuts permanent, which Republicans want, the GOP quickly raced to frame Clinton's comments as undercutting President Obama and Democrats' position.
The former President's spokesman later clarified that "President Clinton has said many times before, he supported extending all of the cuts in 2010 as part of the budget agreement, but does not believe the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be extended again."
Boehner used the clarification to tweak the former President, saying, "Even Bill Clinton came out for it, before he was against it."
GOP leaders also pointed to comments by Clinton's former Treasury Secretary, and Obama's former economic advisor, Larry Summers in an interview on MSNBC, who said "the real risk to this economy is on the side of slowdown...and that means we've got to make sure that we don't take gasoline out of the tank at the end of this year." Though Summers didn't specifically call for an extension of the tax breaks, and the examples he gave for boosting the economy involved spending, the GOP used both Democrats' comments as a way to underline their point that tax rates should stay unchanged as the economy continues to recover.
Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell noted that President Obama signed on to extend some tax cuts in 2010 because he believed it was best for the struggling economy. McConnell noted, "the growth rate now is actually slower than it was in December of '10." The Republican leader echoed Boehner, saying, "it's pretty obvious that the economy needs the certainty of the extension of the current tax rates for at least a year."
Democrats said the GOP is still focused on protecting the rich at the expense of middle income taxpayers.
"President Obama's been clear about his position and it has not changed. We should not extend, and he will not extend the tax cuts, the Bush-era tax cuts, for the wealthiest two percent of the American people," said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney.
Boehner's spokesman Kevin Smith said the Speaker and other Republicans raised Clinton and Summers' comments at the weekly GOP meeting and said the Democrats' statements served to "throw gas on the fire" as the debate over how to deal with the tax rates continues in the next few weeks. The House is expected to vote next month on a measure to extend the rates, but leaders are still discussing the details. But few on Capitol Hill believe real talks on the issue will begin until after the fall election.
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