Speaking Friday afternoon with THE WEEKLY STANDARD, Oklahoma congressman Tom Cole, a Republican who has emerged this week as an advocate of compromising on taxes, panned President Obama's proposal to avert the fiscal cliff.
"I think honestly the president’s initial proposal is just laughable," Cole told me. "There’s no spending restraints. There’s very little entitlement reform. He’s asking to essentially double the revenue that he’s asked for in the past."
"He wants control of the debt ceiling," Cole added, "so he can unilaterally decide how much debt the United States is going to have. I wouldn’t give Ronald Reagan that kind of power, let alone Barack Obama."
Obama's proposal asks for $1.6 trillion in higher taxes, which is twice the amount generated by letting the Bush tax cuts expire on families and small businesses making more than $250,000. Earlier this week, Cole spoke up in favor of accepting President Obama's offer to lock in the current income tax rates for families making less than $250,000. Cole told me Friday afternoon that he also thinks Senate Democrats and the president would have a hard time saying no to extending tax rates for people making up to $1 million. " I think that sort of thing is doable," he said.
“Right now, it seems to me, the way this is playing out is that Barack Obama is emerging as the great defender of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of the people. That is the most fraudulent position ever," Cole said. "He would have never voted for those tax cuts … when they were passed.”
How are Cole's fellow House Republicans receiving his proposal? “I would say opinion is split," Cole said. “There are some people who are mulling it over or think, well, maybe this is too soon. Are we giving up some sort of leverage in this other negotiation. Shouldn’t it be part of a larger package?”
“The biggest strategic disagreement is some people think we need to settle everything at once. And they see this part as leverage against some other part. I don’t see it that way. I think things get easier if the table is less cluttered," Cole said. "On those areas where we agree it seems to me we should take them off.... The Democrats use this as leverage aginst us. It’s just a mistake that this is somehow our leverage."
“One of the great misunderstandings people have is they seem to think that if we hold firm and taxes won’t go up," Cole added. "The reality is we have to act, and we have to act with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic president or taxes go up for everybody.”
Cole believes prospects are dim for a deal emerging until the very end of December. “I expect the next week to be pretty tough. Actually the next two or three,” he said. “The pattern has been so far, we get right to the end and we come to some sort of deal.”
“Anytime you wait until the last minute to get something done," he added, "there’s always a chance something can go wrong.”