Biden hints at flexibility on top-bracket tax rate

Vice President Biden on Friday hinted that the administration could be flexible on the issue of raising tax rates on upper-income earners.

The Obama administration has said it will not agree to a fiscal deal this month that does not increase the top 35 percent individual income tax rate.  

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That rate will rise to 39.6 percent in January, unless Congress extends the current rates.

Biden indicated that the White House could in theory agree to a rate lower than 39.6 percent in a deal with House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

“The top brackets have to go up -- this is not a negotiable issue; theoretically we can negotiate how far up,” he said, according to a White House pool report. 

Biden added that “we think it should go -- the top rate should go to 39.6 percent,” however.

The hint of openness to compromise came on a day when Boehner did not immediately shoot down accepting a rate higher than 35 percent, but lower than 39.6 percent, in a morning press conference. His office later released a statement making clear Boehner remains opposed to increasing tax rates.

“As I’ve said many, many, many times: I oppose tax rate increases because tax rate increases cost American jobs. That has not changed, and will not change,” Boehner said in the follow-up emailed statement. 

The speaker has put $800 billion in tax revenue on the table, to be raised from limiting tax breaks. This compares to $1.4 trillion in revenue in the Obama plan. 

Boehner in his press conference accused the White House of “slow-walking” negotiations in order to maximize pressure on Republicans to make concessions ahead of the January tax increases and spending cuts known as the fiscal cliff.

Biden denied Friday that Obama is employing such a tactic. 

 “I’ll let the American people make their judgment whether or not they think that’s the case. That is not the president’s position,” he said. 

“We have laid out where we are. There has been in a sense a referendum on the two points I’ve made already. I think everybody knows, every serious economist I’ve spoken to, left right and center, knows there has to be revenue,” he added.