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Rep. Cole: Obama Used Tax Issue For Partisan Advantage


And let's bring in another voice now. Tom Cole is a Republican congressman from Oklahoma. He's on the line with us. Congressman, thank you as always for coming on the program.


GREENE: I want to ask you, to start off, about taxes, if I can. The president laid out a compelling narrative last night. Put a little more of the burden on the wealthiest Americans and on banks to, you know, as he suggests, ease the burden on the middle class. If you can, just briefly give me the few sentences that sum up the Republican approach to taxes.

COLE: Well, first of all, we think that they ought to lower the rates for every American and get rid of loopholes so that everybody enjoys some advantage here. Frankly, the president failed to point out that on upper-income people, he's already raised capital gains twice. He did it in Obamacare, did it again in the fiscal cliff crisis. So now he wants to do it yet a third time. And we think this is very much a - you know, a redistributionist approach, if you will. You're literally taking money from one group to give it to another.

Now, if the president wanted to talk about some of the long-term structural deficit problems we have and the entitlement programs or the fact that Social Security disability fund will go bankrupt by 2016 on his watch or the transportation fund, then that's another matter, and that's a place where - probably going to have to be some give and take. But this one was clearly much more of a political ploy than a substantive proposal.

GREENE: Well, why - I wonder why call it a political ploy so quickly? I mean, when we had the president's chief of staff, Denis McDonough, on the program ahead of the speech, he said, you know, this is the opening salvo in a negotiation. I mean, is your party on the same page with that? You know, let's have a negotiation on tax reform with open minds this year, and see where a back-and-forth leads.

COLE: Well, we certainly are open-minded on that. I think Chairman Ryan at Ways and Means is - made that clear, and he's actually negotiated deals across the aisle. So he's got considerable credibility.

But again, this wasn't a systemic overhaul of the tax system. This was a few rifle shots at politically popular targets. It was meant for a partisan advantage and it fell on very deaf ears. I mean, I think, you know, if you're going to make a proposal, it ought to be at least something the other side might consider. This one was DOA, the president knew it. And again, it was more about politics than working with and finding common ground with Congress.

GREENE: Congressman, I read your statement in response to the speech last night. You said the speech represented another missed opportunity for the president to unite and lead the country. And there's been similar criticism from your colleagues in the Republican Party. I just wonder, could you see some as looking at this and saying, here was a missed opportunity for the GOP to back away from the instant criticism and just say, OK, that's your argument, you know, whatever you think of it, we'll take it seriously. Let's now start talking.

COLE: Well, remember, we haven't issued seven veto threats and we haven't, you know, taken controversial executive actions. I think the president's been pretty provocative since the elections. The only time I've seen him act differently - and I applaud him for doing so - was during the omnibus or CRomnibus negotiations. Where he worked with a majority of the majority, a minority of the minority and we actually got federal spending set from now until September 30. If he'll take that approach, I think he'll find willing partners in a number of area.

Look, we clearly support him on trade when his own party doesn't. I think we clearly agree with him that there's a need for new authorization on ISIL, although he hasn't sent one up. We clearly agree on cybersecurity.

GREENE: He said he would last night, though.

COLE: So there's areas to work together.

GREENE: OK, Tom Cole's a Republican congressman from the state of Oklahoma. Congressman, thanks so much as always for coming on the program. We appreciate it.

COLE: Hey, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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