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CNN "Anderson Cooper 360 Degrees" - Transcript

Interview

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BLITZER: "Keeping Them Honest," President Obama campaigned and won on letting taxes go up for the top earners, so his victory throws a little cold water on that claim.

Democrats gained seats in the Senate and the House and recent CNN/ORC polling shows more than two in three support tax hikes for the wealthy. It's a reality that Republicans will be grappling with from now until New Year's Day.

Joining us now, Congressman Tom Cole from Oklahoma. He's a Republican.

Congressman, thanks very much for joining us.

REP. TOM COLE (R), OKLAHOMA: Wolf, thank you.

BLITZER: Your proposal that Republican lawmakers should agree with Democrats, extend the tax breaks for those making $250,000 or less, before the end of the year, deal with these tax rates for the wealthiest later, that's an idea that a lot of Republicans are resisting. What has been the reaction? What kind of pushback are you getting?

COLE: I think the reaction is mixed. Some support it. Some don't. Some have more questions about it.

But, look, I think the issue is really pretty simple. I don't believe in raising tax rates on anybody. I think it's bad for the economy, bad for job creation, ultimately, by slowing down growth cuts revenue, and I think the president needs to come to the table with real spending restraint and real, frankly, entitlement reform.

Having said that, if we agree that taxes shouldn't go up on 98 percent of the people, shouldn't we take that now and get that set aside, make sure that they know their taxes aren't going up? I think they will actually listen to us and we will win the argument in the other areas. But putting people at risk when we agree their taxes shouldn't go up is something in my opinion we shouldn't do.

BLITZER: Speaker Boehner earlier today told House Republicans they need to stick to their position that tax rates should remain frozen, tax rates. I guess they believe, and a lot of Republicans say if you do what you are suggesting, you will lose a lot of leverage as far as entitlement cuts or other spending cuts are concerned. How do you respond to that?

COLE: Well, I respect that point of view. I don't agree with it. Frankly, I don't think you ever use the American people as a hostage in a negotiating type situation, and I think at the end, this is really the leverage for the Democrats, not the Republicans in this.

Again, my advice was given privately at a whip meeting. I was asked what I thought, asked again a couple of weeks later. My position hasn't changed. Somebody leaked it. So, again, I'm happy to talk about it because that's just my point of view.

At the end of the day, the speaker is going to negotiate this deal with the president and it will be a tough deal. He will come back and ask for support. I have supported him every time he's asked to us make a tough vote. I'm sure I did will do that again. And I have a lot of confidence in him as a negotiator. But again when I'm asked my opinion as to what we should do with 98 percent of the American people, I would say let's protect them and continue the fight.

BLITZER: Is this an idea you are totally committed to and you're ready to fight for it in spite of this pushback you are getting from members of your own party, including Grover Norquist, who always puts forward that no new tax pledge.

COLE: I admire Grover Norquist. I think he's done a lot of good. I signed that pledge. I'm honored to do it. I don't think in this case we would breaking it by making what are temporary tax cuts permanent. I think we would be doing the right thing. I want to make all of them permanent, quite frankly.

This is really a debate about political tactics. It's not a difference over political theology. In the end, all Republicans want to make sure we don't increase taxes. That's where we differ with the Democrats. But if there is a place we can again get 80 percent of the Bush tax cuts for 98 percent of the American people made permanent, I think we should do that. Then I think we continue to fight for the rest.

BLITZER: I spoke to Grover Norquist yesterday. He opposes anything along the lines of allowing debate to go forward next year over the 2 percent and 3 percent, the richest Americans, those making $250,000 a year. He wants it all part of the same package. You obviously disagree with him.

COLE: Well, look, Grover Norquist is my friend. And we talk, you know, political strategy in politics. This is my position. It was given in private, when it was asked. It was leaked by somebody. Again, that's fine. I'm not going to say one thing to you that is different than I would say to my own constituents in rural Oklahoma.

This is what I tell them if they say, Congressman, what do you think we ought to do? But I'm one voice. I'm not king of the universe. I support the speaker. I recognize he's the speaker. I support my conference. They're trying to do the right thing. And I think, in this case, the Democrats and the president are trying to use the tax issue.

Instead, they ought to be coming to the table with real spending cuts, real entitlement reform and real compromise proposals. So far, they haven't done it.

BLITZER: Congressman Tom Cole, thanks very much for joining us.

COLE: Wolf, thank you.

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