By Michael O'Brien - 09/13/10 11:38 AM EDT
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Monday appeared on three morning news shows to highlight House GOP Leader John Boehner's (Ohio) Sunday comment that he could agree to phase out tax cuts for wealthier taxpayers.
"I hope that Congressman Boehner's comments suggest a willingness to agree with the president," Gibbs said on CBS.
Separately, on ABC's "Good Morning America," Gibbs said: "I think Congressman Boehner was fairly clear in outlining that position that the president outlined last week: 'Let's provide some certainty. Let's cut taxes for middle-class families in this country. Let's not use them as political football or hold them hostage.' "
Boehner surprised Washington on Sunday when he said he could agree to extend Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class set to expire at the end of the year while allowing tax cuts for the rich to expire, if that were the only choice he had.
"If the only option I have is to vote for those at [$250,000] or below, of course I'm going to do that," Boehner said.
Boehner wants all of the tax rates to be extended, but Obama argues only tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and families making less than $250,000 should be extended.
Democrats could write legislation extending only the tax cuts for people making less than those thresholds. That would set up a tough vote in the House for Republicans, though some Democrats also want to extend all of the tax cuts.
In the Senate, Democrats do not appear to have the 60 votes necessary to clear legislation extending only the tax cuts for the middle class.
Democrats have seized on Boehner's remarks as a shift from his previous position. On Sunday evening, Boehner sought to clarify his position by way of a statement.
"Raising taxes on any American, and especially small businesses, in a struggling economy is the exact wrong thing to do, a position shared not only by my Republican colleagues, and several of my Democratic colleagues, but by a vast number of economists," Boehner said in the statement.
For the past week, the White House has worked to elevate Boehner as the face of the Republican Party. In a speech on the economy in Boehner's home state of Ohio, Obama mentioned the would-be Speaker eight times; the president also hit Boehner hard at a press conference on Friday.
The attacks come amid polls showing Republicans have a good chance of winning back the House in this fall's midterm elections.
Gibbs said the White House would be looking to Boehner, and the top Senate Republican, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), to see how they cooperate in the tax debate, if at all.
"I think we're going to have to see what Congressman Boehner does and says today. We'll have to see what Mitch McConnell does and says over in the Senate today," Gibbs said on ABC. "I think Congressman Boehner was fairly clear in outlining a position that the president made last week."
Extending the tax cuts for the middle class would add about $3 trillion to the deficit. In his interview on ABC, Gibbs indicated the White House would not pay for the tax cuts with other spending cuts or tax increases.
But he said the nation could not afford the $700 billion cost of extending the tax cuts for wealthier taxpayers.
"We understand in times of uncertainty, we can't raise taxes on the middle class. We're going to follow through with that," Gibbs said. "We think on top of that, though, there's no need to borrow an extra $700 billion to give tax cuts to those who make more than $1 million a year."