Washington - Tax Deal Is Shaping 2012 GOP Campaign

Washington - The tax deal now before Congress has kicked off the first real debate of the 2012 Republican presidential campaign, with several prospective candidates heralding the package as a victory for taxpayers and others criticizing it as a costly stimulus bill in disguise.

Former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney have both come out sharply against the measure, which President Barack Obama hammered out last week with Senate Republican leaders. Both cite the deal's price tag, with Mr. Romney saying it will heap billions more onto the nation's debt load.

Supporting the package are former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, all of whom praise the deal as good for the economy and the only way to spare Americans the jolt of a sudden tax increase that otherwise would take effect on Jan. 1.

The debate suggests an early line of cleavage among the potential 2012 Republican aspirants on the key issues of taxes and government spending.

The tax package was expected to win final passage in the Senate at midday Wednesday and advance to the House, which could take it up as early as Wednesday afternoon.

In opposing the deal, Ms. Palin and Mr. Romney are aligning themselves with several large tea-party groups that see the tax deal as a betrayal of the Republican Party's pledge during the last election to slash spending and attack the deficit. By opposing their party's own leaders in Congress, who negotiated the package with Mr. Obama, the two also appear intent on shoring up their outsider, anti-Washington credentials.

Those supporting the deal reflect a wider Republican sentiment: that any tax cut is good and should be embraced, even if it is part of a bill that causes heartburn on other fronts. Mr. Gingrich, for example, is calling the package "a major breakthrough'' and a dividend of the GOP victories in November.

Differences between the two camps were on display on the Senate floor Tuesday.

South Dakota Sen. John Thune, another potential 2012 GOP contender, took a shot at critics in a speech, saying it was "politically expedient" for them to undermine the proposal. But "advocating against this tax proposal is to advocate for a tax increase," Mr. Thune said.

He didn't mention Mr. Romney by name, but appeared to be responding to a newspaper op-ed by the former Massachusetts governor published Tuesday. Read More: WSJ


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