Tax Cut Deal Divides Potential 2012 GOP Contenders

From left: Mitt Romney, Mike Pence and John Thune CBS

President Obama turned the debate over the extension of the Bush tax cuts into a 2012 campaign issue when he made a deal with Republicans to extend them all for another two years. Several of the president's anticipated GOP challengers have weighed in on the issue, including former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who gave a sharp critique of the plan in an op-ed yesterday.

Now two more of the Republican Party's potential presidential nominees are staking out their position on the tax cut plan. But unlike the other potential 2012 contenders, these two politicians, Rep. Mike Pence of Indiana and Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, are actually obligated to vote on the matter this year.

Pence announced today that when the package deal comes up for a vote in the House this week, he will vote against it.

"I believe the short-term tax deal negotiated by the White House and congressional leaders is a bad deal for taxpayers, will do little to create jobs, and I cannot support it," Pence said. "Despite the fact that last November the American people did not vote for more deficits, more stimulus or more uncertainty in the tax code, that's just what this lame duck Congress is about to give them."

Mr. Obama's deal with Republicans would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for two years, extend unemployment insurance for 13 months, cut the payroll tax for one year and reinstate the estate tax at a relatively low rate and high threshold, among other things. It's anticipated to cost around $900 billion and is not paid for.

Pence echoed Romney's arguments against the plan, saying that a temporary tax cut only perpetuates uncertainty in the economy.

"Uncertainty is the enemy of our prosperity," he said. "Frankly, we can provide assistance people struggling in this economy by making the hard choices to pay for it without adding to the national deficit."

He urged his colleagues to vote against the deal and wait until Republicans take over the House next year to reinstate the tax cuts (which are set to expire at the end of the month).

Pence has built up a reputation as a solid conservative as chair of the Republican Study Committee, and when he announced last month he was stepping down from the position, many speculated that he was planning a presidential bid. He is a favorite among social conservatives and was the surprise winner in an early presidential straw poll at the annual Values Voter Summit in September.

Thune, meanwhile, was one of several Republicans who voted in favor of advancing the tax cut deal in the Senate on Monday.

On the Senate floor on Tuesday, he took a swipe at Republicans who have criticized the deal from the sidelines (like Romney).

"It's easy to stand on the sidelines and criticize this proposal, and it's perhaps even politically expedient to stand on the sidelines and criticize this proposal," he said. "But let me make one thing very clear, Mr. President, advocating against this tax proposal is to advocate for a tax increase."

Thune said he would prefer a bill that were written in a few weeks from now, but given the tax cuts' looming expiration date, he said "that is a reality that does not exist."

"If we wait for the perfect agreement, American families are giong to pay higher taxes just two weeks from now," he said.

Thune was mentioned as a possible vice presidential candidate for Republican candidate John McCain in 2008, and even Democrats have acknowledged he could be a strong contender. A Democratic Party official said over the summer that a possible Thune candidacy gives her "nightmares."

The Senate is expected to take its final vote on the bill today

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.