Kabuki Tax Revolt: Dems Put The Brakes On The Obama Tax Plan


House progressives are still prepared for President Obama’s tax cut compromise to pass unamended. But they temporarily derailed that train this afternoon to be heard publicly on just how bad they think the package is.

“If we’re going to lose, let’s lose with a strong message,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) — chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus — told me and another reporter in the Speaker’s Lobby this afternoon.

Earlier today, he and other progressives interrupted the tax plan’s glide path by blocking a key procedural measure — a stalling tactic they hope to leverage into being given a chance to vote on substantial changes to the bill. All efforts to amend the legislation are expected to fail. But rank and file Dems are angry that during the brief floor debate over the cuts they were given only one shot at a relatively narrow, symbolic amendment to raise the estate tax.

As long as they’re being set up to fail, progressives want that measure to include a whole range of changes to the bill.“The problem with the Rule [which provided the blueprint for debate] was that it did not allow members who were opposed to it in broader ways than just the estate tax to have an opportunity to vote against [those issues],” Rep. Chaka Fattah (D-PA), who supports Obama’s plan, told me in a brief interview. “You had an opportunity to amend the estate provision, but not [extensions for] the millionaire, billionaire side.”

The likely vehicle for these bigger changes was introduced to the Rules Committee last night by Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). It includes the estate tax, but would also swap out the payroll tax holiday with a renewal of the Making Work Pay tax credit, and provide a cost of living adjustment for seniors on Social Security, among other things.

These are positions most Democrats are already on the record voting for. So why grind the House to a halt to do it all over again? “This is the last opportunity we have,” said Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR). “And yeah, we’re on record voting on a whole bunch of things at a time when people weren’t paying attention. People are paying attention now.”

If progressives get a chance to take this one messaging vote, they’ll drop their impromptu filibuster.

“That would change my vote,” DeFazio said.

Democrats will meet this evening* to plot their way forward. Many, including Fattah and Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter predict it will all be resolved today.

Technical addendum: There’s also a separate, technical hangup other members members have. As currently written, the rule partially links the vote on the amendment and on final passage of the tax bill. If the amendment fails, as expected, it will be followed immediately by a vote on the Obama plan. But if by some miracle the amendment passes, the entire package goes straight back to the Senate. In that unlikely event, some members are worried that their vote on the amendment will be construed as a vote on the underlying tax bill. So they want to see the amendment and the legislation delinked. Got it? Good.

Late update: Caucus meeting has been postponed.


Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at brian@talkingpointsmemo.com