Snowe, Collins: Extend middle-class tax cuts, leave rest of debate for another day

As negotiations over the fiscal cliff stall, a small contingent of Republicans are suggesting that Congress immediately renew the Bush-era tax cuts on people with incomes less than $250,000 and leave the debate over ending tax cuts for the top 2 percent of income earners for another day.

Maine’s two U.S. senators, Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, are among that group of Republicans who want to take the possibility of raising taxes on the middle class completely off the table while debate continues on the fate of tax cuts for top income earners.

Snowe told the New York Times this week that there should be no doubt that middle-class tax cuts will stay in place. The Times reported that Snowe

joined a handful of other Republicans on Tuesday suggesting that Congress should pass the middle-class tax cut extensions now, then leave the fight over taxes and spending until later. Americans, she said, “should not even be questioning that we will ultimately raise taxes on low- to middle-income people.” Congress could take that off the table “while you’re grappling with tax cuts for the wealthy,” she said.

In a prepared statement Wednesday, Collins said such an approach — which was first proposed last week by U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla. — “has merit because everyone agrees lower and middle-income families should not be subjected to higher taxes.

“I believe that very wealthy individuals — millionaires and billionaires — should pay a greater percentage of their income in taxes to help us reduce the soaring deficit,” Collins continued, noting she and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., last year proposed a surtax on millionaires along with a carve-out provision to avoid raising taxes on small businesses whose owners file taxes as individual earners.

The Times reported that, by passing an immediate extension of the middle-class tax cuts, Republicans could avoid being blamed for causing taxes to rise for middle-income earners.

Such an approach has been slow to gain support among Republicans, however, because it leaves open the possibility that taxes will rise, even temporarily, on the top 2 percent of income earners.

When U.S. Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., first suggested it last week, Democrats quickly praised his proposal while the Republicans’ leader, House Speaker John Boehner, dismissed it, the Oklahoman reported.