Tax cut deal gaining momentum as party leaders contain opposition

Jon Ward Contributor
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The tax cut deal between President Obama and Republicans gained momentum Wednesday, as Republican and Democratic party leaders appeared to have contained the most serious objections to it.

Vice President Joe Biden met with House Democrats at the Capitol, and while some liberal lawmakers remained upset about aspects of the package, and hoped for some tweaks around the edges, Democratic leaders were resignedly preparing to support it.

There was talk in the Senate of moving to debate on the floor as early as Thursday, though that remained highly fluid, and Senate Democrats were reportedly asking the White House for minor changes to unspecified portions of the deal.

As for an insurrection on the right, that too failed to materialize Wednesday, despite significant concerns among many Republicans about the impact of the deal on the federal deficit and the national debt, which is estimated to be between $600 billion and $900 billion.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told members of her leadership team Tuesday that she thought a significant number of House Republicans would oppose the tax cut deal reached by President Obama and Senate Republicans.

That was not happening.

Rep. Jeff Flake, Arizona Republican, told The Daily Caller he was going to vote against it, based on its cost.

“I’ve whipped no. I’m just concerned about that spending. We’re tasked with cutting $100 billion in discretionary spending. Assume we do that this coming year. We will have obliterated that just with this one bill and we’re back in the hole,” Flake said.

Rep. Mike Pence, Indiana Republican, said he was on the fence, trying to decide whether the deal was “good enough.”

And former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, a leading figure for many in the Tea Party and conservative grassroots, was critical of the deal on Twitter.

But Republican aides and lawmakers both said the number of no votes in the House GOP was going to be very limited. And overall, House Republicans said outright, or indicated by their evasions, that they were going to settle for the deal reached on Monday.

“There’s a huge amount of spending in this bill, there’s no doubt about it,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican who is part of the House GOP leadership. “So you’ve got to add up your ice cream scoops to your turnip greens and decide at the end of the day is there more good or more harm.”

Other House Republicans ran from questions about the tax cut deal’s impact on expanding the national debt and budget deficit.

Rep. Steve King, Iowa Republican, walked away from reporters when asked about the cost.

“You can look at it from that perspective,” he said when asked about about adding to the deficit, and then backed into the House chamber.

Rep. Thaddeus McCotter, Michigan Republican and a member of the House GOP leadership, grew testy when asked about the spending and deficit impact.

“Look I’m not going to debate on the bill with you. As for the temperature of the caucus talk to the guys who are whipping it. They’ll have a much better read on it,” he sneered.

But Hensarling said adding to the deficit might be the cost of maintaining the current tax rates and preventing a tax hike in January, which would be the result if Congress does nothing.

“We’ve set out as a very important goal to prevent any tax increases on anybody, particularly at this point in the economy. But a price tag is coming from what the Democrats want on this,” he said. “I wish we didn’t have to negotiate with these people but I know what’s going to happen if we do nothing, and that is every American who pays income taxes – almost every American – is gonna get slapped like nobody’s business.”

Hensarling also said Republicans did not think they would get a better deal if they pushed Obama even harder for more concessions, threatening to allow the tax cuts to expire and betting that the president would get blamed for it.

“I’m not convinced of that proposition,” he said. “Obama’s still going to be president and Harry Reid is still going to be [majority leader]. And if anything, I’m not sure the president is not starting to bow his back a little from the blowback he’s getting from his own party.”

Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is the only Republican so far to say he supports allowing the tax cuts to expire as a side effect of pushing for a better deal.

Hensarling and Flake both said they wanted to cut spending to pay for a one-year extension of unemployment insurance, which would cost roughly $60 billion, and a one-year payroll tax cut, which would cost about $120 billion.

Even in the Senate, fiscal conservatives such as Sen. Tom Coburn, Oklahoma Republican, have been silent on the tax cut issue, despite the fact that he has blocked numerous pieces of the legislation over the past year — many times over much smaller price tags — on the grounds that it should be paid for.

David Axelrod, a top White House adviser to Obama, said Republicans were “better at stifling dissent” than Democrats.

But despite the griping from the left, only two Democratic senators – Bernie Sanders of Vermont and Mark Udall of Colorado – have said they will vote against the tax deal. And on the Republican side, George Voinovich of Ohio is the only senator to have joined DeMint in declaring opposition to it.

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