Tax Cut Tussle: House Democrats Split On Whether To Hold Vote

September 13, 2010 2:18 p.m.

Democrats who hoped to exploit GOP divisions over tax cuts are now facing their own split, and have made no firm decisions on on how to proceed for maximum political gain. House leaders are still casting about for consensus as members return from a long summer recess. This afternoon, top leadership aides are disagreeing on whether there will even be a vote and conservative Democrats are attempting to pressure Speaker Nancy Pelosi not to put them in a tough spot before the midterms.

After we quoted two House Democratic leadership aides telling us there would not be a vote, another senior leadership aide called TPM to say that leadership is still considering all of its options, including a vote after all.In remarks that highlight disagreement within the Democratic caucus and the fluidity of the situation, the aide said leadership is “still in discussions” and that many top Democrats want to force a vote.

“We may have a vote anyway to get people on the record,” the aide said. “There are a number of leaders who would like a vote even if the Senate is not able to get to 60 votes. It’s good for us, it shows we’re for the middle class, they are for the rich.”

It’s a bizarre game of right hand, meet left hand, especially given the political reality that any major change to tax policy is highly unlikely to pass less than two months before an election, anyway.

The third leadership aide says Democrats are considering squeezing Minority Leader John Boehner for political gain, forcing a vote to call his bluff on whether he’d support extending tax cuts for the middle class only. (Even though he quickly backed off of it, Boehner said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation” he would support such a thing if it were his only option.) The other two aides had earlier said it was easier to just let Boehner squirm instead of holding a vote.

Throw in the mix some conservative Democrats wary about seeming like tax increasers so close to the election. Reps. James Matheson (D-UT), Melissa Bean (D-IL), Glenn Nye (D-VA) and Gary Peters (D-MI) wrote a letter to Speaker Nancy Pelosi today asking she consider a vote on extending all of the Bush-era tax cuts, even the ones for the wealthy.

“In recent weeks, we have heard from a diverse spectrum of economists, small business owners, and families who have voiced concerns that raising any taxes right now could negatively impact economic growth. Given the continued fragility of our economy and slow pace of recovery, we share their concerns,” they wrote.

In one more division over on the Senate side, Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told reporters this afternoon that even though he’d promised earlier today he’d be doing everything in his power to extend all tax cuts, he won’t go so far as to filibuster a bill that lets the cuts expire on the rich. Which means Lieberman would be one of the Democrats’ needed 60 votes to proceed.

Additional reporting by Brian Beutler

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