GOP Reacts Cautiously to Democratic Millionaires’ Tax Plan

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Democrats think they’ve found a great campaign issue for the 2012 elections—raising taxes on millionaires. And to judge by Republicans’ reactions, they may be right. “We agree with what the President said,” says Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell. “You shouldn’t be raising taxes in a weak economy.”

That neatly sums up the cautious approach the GOP is taking to the proposal by Senate Democrats to impose a 5% surtax on everyone earning over $1 million: emphasize the appearance of division between Senate Democrats and President Obama, whose American Jobs Act would have raised taxes on everyone earning more than $250,000, and seek cover behind the President for the GOP’s orthodox resistance to “tax and spend” policies.

The Republican caution shows Democrats may be on to something. “They think they’re very clever,” says Stewart. “They think they’re going to be able to run around the country” with this issue ahead of the 2012 elections. Taxing the wealthy polls well in much of the country, so trying to frame this as a fight between Democrats, with the GOP as a bystander, is a understandable defensive position.

But the President is trying to take the issue of division away form the GOP at his press conference today, backing the Senate Democrats’ proposal according to CNN. That will leave the GOP with their muted embrace of Obama.

One thing is clear: Democrats are after the issue, not the bill here. There’s no chance the American Jobs Act will pass in its entirety if and when it comes up for a vote next week, with or without the latest Senate Democratic tweak. But if the millionaires’ tax divides the Senate along closely partisan lines, it will give Democrats, and the President, the issue they want for the campaign.