A majority of House Democrats on Thursday voted in a caucus meeting to oppose President Obama’s tax cut deal as it currently is written, in what was essentially a tactic to push the White House for changes to details of the agreement.
The vote inside the Democratic meeting was not on the House floor and was a voice vote, and so has no legislative impact. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he planned to begin debate on the measure Thursday evening.
But the impact of the House Democratic vote reverberated around Washington, and some media reports said inaccurately that House Democrats had decided not to bring the measure up for a vote this year. House Democrats stressed fiercely that those reports were not true.
But the message to Obama was clear: House Democrats want changes to the package.
“It means that there is a very significant portion of the caucus that feels like they can’t accept the deal as it is,” said a House Democratic leadership aide. “They’re especially upset about the estate tax piece, and they want to send a message to the White House that this is just unacceptable.”
The aide said House Democrats would like to see the threshold at which individual estate inheritors are taxed lowered from $5 million, as it currently is in the tax cut deal, to $1 million. They would also like to see the percentage raised from 35 percent to 45 percent.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said he did not think these details would change.
“This is not something that we were the champions of,” he said. “It got in there because this is what the Republicans said was the price of coming along for extending tax cuts for the middle class.”
The decision to hold a non-binding vote was essentially a move by House Democrats to negotiate with the White House in public after being left out of private negotiations between the administration and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.
A House Democratic aide said that the feeling among the caucus is that the White House was “not acting in good faith” and that there was “some underhanded things going on that is unnerving folks.”
Robert Gibbs said that the president does not like where the estate tax is at, but hinted that Republicans would walk away from the deal if there were any changes made to that component.
“The question for [House Democrats] to work through with their Republican counterparts is if you do that, do you lose votes on the other side,” Gibbs said.
“If there are ways to strengthen the framework that are agreeable to everybody and strengthen the coalition that’s good,” he said, but expressed confidence that the House would pass the deal.
“I think at the end of the day this will get done,” Gibbs said. “The president continues to believe that we got a good deal.”
And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, made clear that she still planned to bring the measure to the floor for a vote.
“We will continue discussions with the President and our Democratic and Republican colleagues in the days ahead to improve the proposal before it comes to the House floor for a vote,” she said in a statement.
However, opposition to any changes is fierce, especially among Senate Republicans who negotiated the deal with the White House.
Asked late Wednesday about potential changes to the estate tax portion, one Senate GOP leadership aide said there was “zero point zero percent chance of that happening.” Another aide said Thursday the GOP’s stance remained the same.
And the first real signs of insurrection in the conservative grassroots emerged Thursday as well, though it remained limited to a few small pockets.
The Tea Party Patriots, a national group, sent an e-mail to its supporters urging them to call their members of Congress and the Republican leadership to urge opposition to the tax deal, which the group said violated the GOP’s “Pledge to America.”
TPP quoted conservative blogger and radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt, who has been the most vocal critic of the deal.
“‘The deal’ spends billions and billions of dollars that the country does not have in order to prevent a tax hike that the country voted against. In essence the GOP bribed the president to follow the will of the people,” Hewitt wrote. “There is at least $75 billion in new spending in the plan, agreed to by the GOP less than 5 weeks after the country fairly screamed ‘Stop Spending Our Children’s Money!'”
“‘The deal’s’ assault on ‘The Pledge’ will make the latter a joke, and instantly impacts the credibility of all future efforts to propose agendas to the electorate.”