WASHINGTON — A leading Senate conservative said Thursday he believes President Barack Obama is ready to embrace the notion of keeping Bush era tax rates in place for everyone at least temporarily, including the wealthy, with no New Year's increases.
Republican Sen. Jim DeMint told CBS's "The Early Show" he wants to "keep tax rates the same." The South Carolinian said he believes Obama "has come around to the idea that taxes can't be raised in a recession."
DeMint favors a permanent extension of the existing rates but said he thinks Obama will oppose anything beyond a temporary extension for the wealthy. The senator said, "A business is not going to plan to add 50 people if they only know what their taxes are going to be for the next two years."
Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House Budget Director Jacob Lew held two closed-door meetings Wednesday with a group of four lawmakers from both parties to negotiate a deal on tax cuts.
Reps. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., and Dave Camp, R-Mich., two of the lawmakers involved in the tax negotiations, gave no indication Thursday that they were making any progress on a deal.
"We've just begun the discussion," said Camp. "But I think it's so important that we prevent a tax hike, so we can get the economy moving again and get job creation going again."
Van Hollen, however, argued that it's more important to pass an extension of unemployment benefits for people who are about to run out.
"You have to pay for about $13 billion in emergency unemployment compensation for people out of work through no fault of their own," he said. "But (Republicans) want a permanent extension of tax cuts for the folks at the very top, which adds $700 billion."
Van Hollen added, "This is the kind of conversation we've been having up here."
Both men appeared on ABC's "Good Morning America."
The White House held open the possibility for a year-end compromise that would extend all cuts – at last temporarily. And Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell said the only question that remained was how long current rates should be allowed to continue before they expire.
The Kentucky Republican said all Republicans and some Democrats oppose any plan that would allow tax rates for the wealthy to rise. He predicted the Senate would approve extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for everyone.
Officials said negotiations center on a one- to three-year extension of the current rates.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs reiterated Wednesday that Obama's main goal is to prevent a middle-class tax increase. Obama's "other line in the sand" is that he won't support a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.
Obama has specifically voiced his objection to a permanent extension "to the wealthiest Americans.
"Having said that, we agreed that there must be some sensible common ground," Obama said.
Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., said, "At the end of the day, I've been saying for six months, we'll end up with a minimum of two years of tax policy."