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Rep. Cole defends tax stance, downplays split with Speaker Boehner

GOP Rep. Tom Cole (Okla.) is sticking with his call for Republicans to accept a tax deal that would extend the Bush-era tax rates for all but the wealthiest Americans.

Cole had previously said that Republicans should sign off on a deficit-reduction deal that immediately extends tax rates for 98 percent of Americans and debate extending the rates for the top 2 percent later. His idea, though, was quickly shot down by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

On Thursday Cole defended his stance, but also downplayed any split with his party's leadership, saying the disagreement was really about tactics.

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"I do think that where we agree on 98 percent, we should take that off the table so Americans don't have to worry about that," Cole said in an interview on CNN's "Starting Point."

"Look, at the end of the day this is a discussion among Republicans over tactics. It's not a division or debate," he added. "And the president would be well advised, if he's serious, to actually bring spending cuts and entitlement reform to the table. We haven't heard much of that, so I think that's really what's sparking Republican resistance."

Cole said that Republicans, including himself, were "united" with Boehner in not wanting to raise tax rates. He also said that agreeing to extend the rates for the 98 percent of U.S. earners would not cost the GOP bargaining power in deficit talks with Democrats.

"We know at the end of the day neither side wants to raise taxes on the average American. Let's just do that now and continue our discussion and debate," said Cole. "But there's plenty of leverage on our side in terms of the spending."

President Obama and Democrats are pushing for higher tax rates on the wealthiest Americans to help pay for a deficit-reduction package. Republicans have said they are open to new revenues, but are opposing any rate increases. GOP leaders have said they would like to extend the expiring Bush-era rates across the board, while Democrats would let the current lower rates expire for families making more than $250,000 a year.

Despite Cole's calls for extending middle-class tax rates, Boehner on Wednesday said the position was a non-starter. 

“I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him,” Boehner told reporters. “He’s a wonderful friend of mine and a great supporter of mine. But raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent – half of those people are small-business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year. The goal here is to grow the economy and to cut spending.”

After Boehner's response, Cole said that he would support whatever deal Republican leaders reached with Democrats on tax rates.

"I'm one voice. I'm not king of the universe, and I support my Speaker," Cole said on CNN Wednesday evening. "I recognize he's the Speaker. I support my conference."