The heat was turned up this past weekend on Republicans supporting extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich.
House Minority Leader John Boehner was asked on national television by Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer, "Aren't you holding the tax cuts for the lower income people, the people making less than $250,000, hostage, so you can give those tax cuts to the upper brackets?"
The commentator continued: "There are a lot more people below those top brackets than are in those upper brackets. Why wouldn't you want to do something for those folks?
Boehner responded by saying, "I want to do something for all Americans who pay taxes."
When pressed again, he said, "If the only option I have is to vote for some of those tax reductions, I'll vote for it."
The remarks sent the press scurrying for confirmation from Republicans that this was a signal that Republicans might deal with the administration on the issue of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. President Obama has repeatedly insisted that those tax breaks must be allowed to expire.
There were reports in the Wall Street Journal this weekend that a Boehner aide told the newspaper the Republican leader would accept a compromise that doesn't extend the tax cuts for the rich if negotiations remain stalled over the next three weeks.
The aide said that Boehner's remarks were designed to combat President Obama's statement on Friday that the GOP is "holding middle-class tax relief hostage" by insisting that all cuts be extended.
The White House spokesman, Robert Gibbs, welcomed what he called Boehner's "change in position and support for the middle class tax cuts."
Gibbs made it clear, however, that the White House remains skeptical: "Time will tell if his actions will be anything but continued support for the failed policies that got us into this mess."
Republicans are backed into a corner because they must, for political reasons, avoid being called responsible for holding up tax breaks that Obama wants for 97 percent of the population just to preserve $100,000 a year tax breaks for billionaires and millionaires. A filibuster of tax breaks for the majority would be particularly painful with the mid-term elections approaching.
If Democrats remain united on the tax break issue they should be able to take advantage of the situation and, as the president wants, end the Bush tax cuts for the rich and extend the tax cuts for everybody else.
There are several conservative Democrats, however, who threaten to upset the apple cart by bucking the president on the issue.
Reps. Jim Matheson of Utah, Glenn Nye of Virginia, Melissa Bean of Illinois and Gary Peters of Michigan have been circulating a letter in Blue Dog circles for at least a temporary extension of the rates for top income earners as well as those in lower brackets.
Polls show more support than ever, not just for ending the tax cuts for the rich but also for continuing the tax cuts for income levels below $250,000.
Eliminating the tax cuts for the rich will shave $830 billion off the federal deficit over the next 10 years.
Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich says the tax cuts were a "huge windfall for the wealthy. About 40 percent of its benefits went to the tiny sliver of Americans earning over $500,000. Reich goes further, however, and says Wall Street's excesses were only a "proximate cause" of the Great Recession, with the fundamental cause being the nation's "widening inequality."
In the 1970s, the top 1 percent received 8 percent of total income. By 2007, they were already receiving 23.5 percent of that income.
"The only way most Americans could continue to buy most of what they produced was by borrowing. And now that the debt bubble has burst - as it inevitably would - the underlying problem has re-emerged," said Reich.
Reich said that extending the tax cuts for the rich would exacerbate the already massive income gap between the rich and "the rest of us."
"So why make it worse?" he asked.
Photo: Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, left, and former-President George W. Bush. (CC)