As you know, GOP Rep. Tom Cole made waves today by urging Republicans to give in to the Dem demand that they extend the Bush tax cuts for everyone under $250,000. Cole argued this would remove the leverage Dems have and give the GOP more leverage to fight to extend the high-end tax cuts later, since Dems want the fiscal cliff averted and also want a debt ceiling hike.

Today John Boehner rejected Cole’s suggestion. But in the process, he said something pretty revealing:

“I told Tom earlier in our conference meeting that I disagreed with him,” Boehner told reporters after a closed-door meeting of the House Republican Conference. “He’s a wonderful friend of mine and a great supporter of mine. But raising taxes on the so-called top 2 percent — half of those people are small-business owners that pay their taxes through their personal income tax filing every year. The goal here is to grow the economy and to cut spending.
“We’re not going to grow the economy if we raise tax rates on the top two rates,” the Speaker added. “It’ll hurt small businesses. It’ll hurt our economy. That’s why it’s not the right approach. We’ll willing to put revenue on the table as long as we’re not raising rates.”

In Boehner’s telling, extending the tax cuts just for those under $250,000 is simply indistinguishable from raising them on those Boehner himself describes as the “top two percent.” But Cole isn’t suggesting a tax hike for the top two percent. Rather, Cole wants Republicans to extend the low end tax rates right now, and then take a stand against raising the high end ones in the fiscal cliff talks.

The plain fact remains that the two sides could remove uncertainty for the middle class by extending their tax cuts immediately. Indeed, another House GOPer — conservative Rep. Tim Scott of South Carolina — is even conceding that Obama’s extension of just the middle class tax cuts could pass the House. But Boehner can’t extend the middle class’ tax cuts — even though both sides agree on them — because he apparently thinks it will make it harder to prevent a tax hike on the top two percent later. That’s not even clear, by the way: Cole might be right that the GOP’s leverage increases if the middle class tax cuts are removed from the equation. But Boehner won't risk it. The fates of tax rates for the middle class and tax rates for the rich must remain bound to one another.

And so, a tax cut for the middle class is not a tax cut — it’s actually a tax hike for the top two percent. Boehner calls them the “supposed” top two percent, but even he can’t avoid acknowledging that the top two percent is who we’re talking about here. You couldn’t ask for a clearer picture of what this is all about.

Here you see why Obama and Democrats are putting all their chips on the demand that Republicans extend just the middle class tax cuts right away. It reveals the GOP stance for what it is — and reveals the absurdity underlying the contortions required to obscure it.