If you were enjoying your evening last night, you may have missed the day’s biggest development in the fight over the Bush tax cuts. Specifically, Rep. Tom Cole (R-OK), an influential conservative, is privately and publicly urging House Republicans to do what President Obama wants and extend all of the Bush tax cuts except for those benefiting top earners alone.
I’ve argued that the move makes tactical sense for Republicans, and that’s more or less what Cole’s telling his colleagues: The top income tax cuts are Obama’s leverage. Take them out of the equation and the mix of remaining leverage points (the sequester, appropriations, the debt limit) actually favors Republicans.
Maybe Cole’s argument will prevail, or maybe it won’t. But here’s an indication that it has appeal among Republicans: a couple of veteran GOP communicators — Ari Fleischer and Brad Dayspring — are already providing House Republicans free framing advice in the event they decide to go this route. Even if the tax cuts for top earners expire, they note, Bush tax rates for 98 percent of Americans will be made permanent. Huge victory for Bush and Republicanism.
That’s true as far as it goes. It’s also consolation — the Bush tax cuts for high earners constitute about 20 percent of the Bush tax cuts’ overall revenue cost. Hardly an unalloyed victory for the GOP.
So far these are the only two Republican flacks framing the issue this way. And it’s worth keeping in mind that both of them, in different capacities, worked for George W. Bush, whose legislative legacy is at stake. But Dayspring is best known as Eric Cantor’s former adviser and communications director, and currently advises Cantor’s SuperPAC — not exactly someone you’d expect to clear the runway for Obama’s tax plan, unless he knew Republicans were preparing for a (possible) emergency landing.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.