House Minority Leader John A. Boehner signaled Sunday that he is prepared to support President Obama’s plan to extend tax cuts for just the lower and middle classes — even if it does not include Republican-backed cuts for wealthier Americans.
“If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I’ll vote for it,” Mr. Boehner said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.” “But I’ve been making the point now for months that we need to extend all the current rates for all Americans if we want to get our economy going again, and we want to get jobs in America.”
The Ohio Republican, in line to be speaker of the House if his party captures the chamber this fall, qualified his statement by saying that a decision not to extend all the expiring tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush is “bad policy.” He noted that even some Democrats appear willing to split with the president to join the GOP in supporting tax cuts for individuals earning more than $250,000 a year.
“I think raising taxes in a very weak economy is a really, really bad idea, and most economists would agree with that,” Mr. Boehner said. “And I just think that if we’re going to extend the tax cuts for some Americans, why don’t we extend these current tax rates to all Americans, and get rid of some of the uncertainty that’s out there?”
The remarks follow a campaign-style rally in Cleveland last week in which Mr. Obama called on Congress to extend the tax cuts for those earning less than $250,000 and attacked the Republican House leader for bringing “no new ideas” to the table for economic policy.
“There was just the same philosophy we already tried for the last decade, the same philosophy that led to this mess in the first place. Cut more taxes for millionaires and cut more rules for corporations,” Mr. Obama said.
Sensing a political opening in what is shaping up as a difficult midterm test, the Democratic National Committee said Sunday that it plans to begin airing an ad Tuesday in Washington and on national cable networks that portrays Mr. Boehner as a supporter of tax cuts for the “rich” 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.”
The fight over the tax cuts approved under Mr. Bush in 2001 and 2003 has flared up in recent weeks as Democrats and Republicans brace for a bruising election season. The cuts will expire at the end of the year unless Congress votes to extend them.
This summer, Democrats have struggled to improve the image of Mr. Obama’s $814 billion stimulus package and the health care overhaul law, while dealing with an unemployment rate now at 9.6 percent.
Less than two months before the elections, polls show Republicans have an edge in overall voter enthusiasm and a good chance of winning the House and perhaps taking the Senate.
Democrats have responded in part by casting the GOP as the party of “no” and embracing the populist mantle as the party fighting to preserve tax breaks for the middle class but end them for wealthier Americans.
Mr. Boehner’s office rebutted the White House line in an e-mail to reporters on Sunday. Republicans argue that it is Mr. Obama who is refusing to compromise and using the economy as a partisan wedge issue.
“Republicans are not holding middle-class tax cuts hostage, but instead are focused on working across party lines to do what’s best for our economy, which means freezing all tax rates,” his office said. “[The minority leader’s] comments deprive President Obama of the ability to continue making false claims about where Republicans stand on this critical issue.”
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the political arm of House Democrats, countered by saying the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has found that “extending the tax cuts for high-income households to be the worst of all options under discussion for preserving or creating jobs and boosting economic growth while the economy is weak.”
Mr. Obama voiced a similar message in his White House news conference Friday. He urged Republicans to make the middle-class tax cuts permanent. He said that extending the cuts to wealthier Americans would cost $700 billion and equates to a $100,000 tax break for “millionaires.”
“That, I think, is a bad idea,” he told reporters.
Austan Goolsbee, making his first appearance on the Sunday talk shows after being named to head the White House Council of Economic Advisers last week, seemed uncertain about Mr. Boehner’s statements.
“If he’s for that, I would be happy,” Mr. Goolsbee said on ABC’s “This Week.” “In the past, we have seen some of these circumstances in which what appears to be the offer of doing this — the sensible thing, in the light of day there was a little bit of a feeling, well, if the president is for it, I’m against it, and then it falls apart.”