By Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 22, 2010; 9:16 PM
The White House is ready to do a deal with Republicans to keep tax cuts in place for the middle class, according to Vice President Biden - even if it means expanding the universe of taxpayers who benefit.
In an interview set to air Friday evening on Bloomberg Television's "Political Capital With Al Hunt," Biden said the administration is open to compromise. It is willing, he added, to consider raising the income threshold at which President Obama has said the tax cuts should expire - $250,000 a year for families and $200,000 a year for individuals - as long as the Republicans allow Congress to extend the cuts before they expire in January.
"I think it's important we get the middle-class tax cut made permanent. And so I think we're open to speaking to the Republicans, if they really mean it, if they're talking about deficit reduction, if they're willing to move," Biden said. He quickly added that talk of a compromise may be "a little premature," and that any negotiations would depend "on how serious they are."
Lawmakers are bracing for a bruising battle over taxes when they return to Washington after the Nov. 2 elections. An array of tax cuts worth thousands of dollars a year to the average family is set to expire, and Republicans are pressing to extend them all. Obama campaigned on a promise to fully preserve the cuts only for middle-class families and has insisted that the nation cannot afford to keep them for the top 2 percent of earners.
Still, Obama has stopped short of threatening a veto over the issue, and many analysts expect a compromise to emerge. Among the most likely scenarios, lawmakers and other observers say, would be a temporary extension of all the cuts for one or two years. Some Democrats have also discussed the possibility of trading provisions to boost the economy - such as a payroll tax holiday or more tax breaks for businesses to spur hiring - for a limited extension of the cuts for upper-income families.
Meanwhile, some Democrats from wealthy states have pushed the idea of raising the income threshold to as high as $1 million a year, an idea that would more clearly separate the extremely wealthy from the merely upper-middle class. And some liberal Democrats have begun to balk at any extension, saying they didn't vote for the tax cuts when they passed in 2001 and 2003 and don't see why they should vote for them now.
Such talk has raised the possibility that Congress could let all the cuts expire. But Biden seemed to dismiss that prospect in the Bloomberg interview. He also defended the president's position, arguing that the nation should not sink more deeply into debt to provide tax breaks to millionaires.
"Here's the bottom line we have: I don't have any problem with wealthy people getting a tax cut. These are good guys," Biden said. "But just to put this in perspective, of the tax cut they want to extend, 120,000 families in the whole nation are going to get $375 billion in tax relief over the next 10 years. We think that should go to the deficit."
He added of Republicans: "We have to have a serious discussion and hopefully they want to seriously engage us."