GOP Rep. Jones says he could buck party on middle-class tax vote

GOP Rep. Walter Jones said this week that he might buck his party and endorse the Democrats' petition to force a vote on extending a tax break for middle-class earners.

The North Carolina Republican said he's not prepared to sign the petition now, but would reconsider if the “fiscal cliff" negotiations remain at an impasse next week.

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“I, at this point, am not going to sign the discharge petition,” Jones said. “I said 'at this point.' I don't know what next week will bring.

“What would change my mind,” he added, “would be to see if there is any forward movement in the discussions regarding the White House and the House leadership. I would seriously consider what options do I have at that point.”

Jones, who was among just a handful of Republicans who voted against Rep. Paul Ryan's (R-Wis.) budget proposal, is a maverick who was stripped of his seat on the Financial Services panel this week for his independent streak.

Behind Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.), House Democrats on Tuesday introduced a discharge petition that would force a vote on extending the Bush-era tax rates on household incomes below $250,000, but allow the rates to go up on higher earners.

The Senate in July passed such a bill, but House GOP leaders have refused to bring it to the floor, preferring their proposal to extend the lower rates for all earners, regardless of income.

As of Wednesday afternoon, Walz's petition had attracted the support of 178 of the 191 Democrats in the House. No Republican has yet endorsed the push.

Although a handful of House Republicans — notably Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Kay Granger (Texas) — have broken with GOP leaders and endorsed the Democrats' plan to extend the lower rates only on income below $250,000, they have not taken the more dramatic step of signing the discharge petition.

The House recessed for the week on Wednesday with both sides apparently at an impasse over how to prevent a host of tax hikes and spending cuts from taking effect next month.

Last week, the White House introduced a proposal to hike revenues by $1.6 trillion and cut entitlements by $400 billion over the next 10 years — a package GOP leaders roundly rejected.

On Monday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) offered a counterproposal featuring $800 billion in new tax revenue and $2.2 trillion in cuts to discretionary and entitlement programs — a package immediately panned by the White House.

Jones said he opposes Boehner’s offer because he thinks it's not “strong” enough to forge a compromise that avoids the scheduled tax hikes and spending cuts that make up the so-called fiscal cliff.

Pressed on that point, he noted that he voted against the GOP's 2013 budget because of its sharp cuts to Medicare benefits.

It's hardly the first time Jones has bucked party leaders in a high-stakes policy debate. In August, Jones was one of just two Republicans to vote with Democrats to extend the Bush tax rates only on incomes below $1 million.

Jones also garnered headlines last December when he criticized GOP leaders as being “petty” for canceling a scheduled markup on legislation designed to prevent congressional insider trading.

“For the good of the American people, let's bring some sunshine to the House of Representatives,” Jones said at the time.

Jones was among the four House Republicans punished this week by Boehner, who stripped them of their committee posts in the next Congress.