Republicans have used their majority in the House of Representatives to foil President Obama’s attempts to raise taxes. But don’t expect them to keep doing that if Obama is re-elected. Republicans are saying they will interpret his re-election as a “referendum on taxes”–a sign that voters are willing to pay more–which will trigger a change in strategy that would trade tax increases for other Republican causes:
Senior Republicans say they will be forced to retreat on taxes if President Obama wins a second term in November, clearing the biggest obstacle to a deal with Democrats to defuse a year-end budget bomb that threatens to rock the U.S. economy.
Republicans have long resisted tax increases of any kind. But taxes are a major battleground in the campaign between Obama and Republican Mitt Romney, Capitol Hill veterans say, and the victor will be able to claim a mandate for his policies.
“This is a referendum on taxes,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), a senior member of the House Budget Committee. “If the president wins reelection, taxes are going up” for the nation’s wealthiest households, and “there’s not a lot we can do about that.”
With Election Day still more than six weeks away and the president holding a thin lead in national polls, Republicans say they are not conceding that an Obama victory is the likely outcome. But they are beginning to plan for that possibility.
Lawmakers expect to leave town Friday and will not return until mid-November, when they will have little time to head off $500 billion in automatic tax increases and spending cuts set to take effect Jan. 2.
If Romney wins the White House, Republicans say, their strategy is clear: They would push to maintain current tax rates through 2013, giving the new president time to draft a blueprint for overhauling the tax code and taming the $16 trillion national debt.
But if Obama wins, the GOP would have no leverage — political or procedural — to force him to abandon his pledge to raise taxes on family income over $250,000, according to senior Republicans in the House and the Senate.
So they are beginning to contemplate a compromise that would let taxes go up in exchange for Democratic concessions on GOP priorities.