By Russell Berman - 06/06/12 02:39 PM EDT
Using comments by former President Bill Clinton as a political gift, Republican leaders stepped up their calls for at least a one-year extension of the George W. Bush-era tax rates.
One by one, senior congressional Republicans stepped before the cameras on Wednesday morning to trumpet Clinton’s momentary support for extending the full slate of current tax rates, in contrast to President Obama’s push to keep income rates in place only for the middle class.
Clinton, in an interview on CNBC, said he had “no problem” with extending all of the tax cuts temporarily to avoid the year-end “fiscal cliff” that economists warn could slow the economy or even cause a recession. A spokesman for the former president later clarified that he “does not believe the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans should be extended again.”
Yet for Obama’s election-year message, the damage might already have been done. Republicans jumped on the comments immediately and made Clinton’s remarks the focus of their morning press briefing. The Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell (Ky.), made a rare walk across the Capitol to join House Republicans and echo their message.
He noted that the economic growth rate is lower than it was in late 2010, when Obama agreed to a deal that extended the Bush tax rates, including those for the wealthy, for two years.
The House GOP conference chairman, Rep. Jeb Hensarling (Texas), added: "Obviously, President Bill Clinton gets it. He knows you should not be raising taxes on anybody."
Boehner and other Republicans also cited comments by Larry Summers, a former top Obama economic adviser who was quoted by The Wall Street Journal on Wednesday as supporting a short-term extension.
Republicans want the current rates extended for at least as long as it takes Congress to agree to a broad overhaul of the tax code.