Several House and Senate Republicans are complaining that GOP Minority Leader John Boehner fell for a trap laid by President Obama when he said last weekend that, given no other option, he would vote for extending middle class tax cuts even if it meant allowing the Bush tax cuts for the rich to expire.
The tax cuts are due to expire Dec. 31.
As the conservatives took pot shots at Boehner, there were signs that they can count on at least some help from friends on the other side of the aisle.
In a move that certainly was no surprise to the Obama administration, Sen. Joe Lieberman, describing himself as an "independent Democrat," issued a statement Sept. 13 expressing strong support for extending the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
Democratic Sens. Jim Webb (Va.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Evan Bayh (Ind.) and Kent Conrad (N.D.) also said they support "tax relief" for families earning over $250,000.
Despite the internal disagreements in his party, Democratic Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) condemned Republicans for supporting "giveaways for millionaires."
Some Republicans close to the party leadership said if Boehner had not taken the position he took on the weekend, Democrats would have been able to portray Republicans as holding hostage Obama's tax cuts for the middle class - something the president has already said they were doing.
Many right-wing Republicans, however, particularly those allied with the tea party, were far less forgiving.
"I think it's a huge mistake, he's caving to the Democrats," said Andrew Roth, vice president of government affairs at the Club for Growth, a group that has poured money into the campaigns of candidates like Rand Paul in Kentucky and Joe Miller in Alaska.
Tim Griffin, a Republican running for the House in Arkansas with tea party support, said he "would not support raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 under any circumstances."
The president's proposal would not actually raise taxes on the rich. It would simply allow a temporary tax reduction given to them by George Bush to expire.
Brian Darling, a lobbyist for the Heritage Foundation, a right-wing think tank, called Boehner's statement "a tragic mistake. If you take that out it seems unlikely or impossible to get the other tax cuts (for the rich) extended."
Top leaders of the Republican Party also displayed their determination yesterday to extend the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made a speech on the Senate floor during which he introduced a bill that he said "ensures that no one in this country will pay higher taxes next year than they are right now."
McConnell's bill, a wish list for the wealthy, would permanently reduce the estate tax and make permanent Bush tax cuts and tax breaks for the rich, personally, and for big businesses in general. Preliminary estimates are that the McConnell bill would ad $4 trillion to the federal deficit by 2020.
Despite the enormity of the right-wing budget-buster, House Minority Whip Eric Cantor, R-Va., said he supported it and vowed, in the same statement to do "everything in my power to stop President Obama."
The tax cuts for the rich that Republicans are trying so hard to preserve continue to be unpopular with the general public.
According to Baseline Scenario's James Kwak, "Public opinion on issues such as inequality has not shifted over the past thirty years; most people think society is too unequal and that taxes should be used to reduce inequality. What has shifted is that Congressmen are now much more receptive to the opinions of the rich, and there is actually a negative correlation between their positions and the preferences of their poor constituents. That shift occurred in the 1970's because businesses and the super rich began a process of political organization in the early 1970's that enabled them to pool their wealth and contacts to achieve dominant political influence."
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