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Pelosi, House Democrats Balk at Tax Cuts Deal, Seek Changes

December 9, 2010 at 4:11 PM EDT
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House Democrats dug in against President Obama's tax-cut compromise with the GOP, taking a non-binding vote Thursday not to bring the bill before the full House without some significant changes. If no bill is passed, taxes will go up in January when Bush-era tax cuts expire. Jim Lehrer reports.

JIM LEHRER: The president’s push to pass the tax cut deal ran into a roadblock today, at least temporarily. House Democrats balked at bringing up the bill in its current form.

After a voice vote behind closed doors, Democrats trooped out to say they overwhelmingly opposed bringing the tax cut deal to the House floor.

Maryland Congressman Chris Van Hollen:

REP. CHRIS VAN HOLLEN (D-Md.), Maryland: In the form it was negotiated, it is not acceptable to the House Democratic Caucus. It’s as simple as that.

JIM LEHRER: The anger was focused mainly on two provisions in the package. One was a two-year extension of the Bush era tax breaks, even for the wealthy. The other was a top rate of 35 percent on a new estate tax, well below what Democrats wanted.

Even a visit from Vice President Biden last night failed to sway opponents of the plan, including Lloyd Doggett of Texas.

REP. LLOYD DOGGETT (D-TX): We were told yesterday by the vice president this was a take-it-or-leave-it deal. We’re saying, leave it.

JIM LEHRER: In a statement, outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the caucus believes the agreement must be changed. She said, “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.”

Before the caucus action, the tax cut package had appeared to be gathering momentum. Earlier in the day, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer suggested Democrats would have little choice but to vote for the package in the end. He spoke on MSNBC.

REP. STENY HOYER (D-Md.), majority leader: The president obviously made a judgment. We’re going to have to determine whether we’re going to make a similar judgment as to whether or not putting the economy at risk and putting millions of Americans at risk in their homes and their families in surviving, or whether or not we’re going to play a game of political chicken.

JIM LEHRER: The prospects for a deal appeared more promising in the Senate, where Majority Leader Harry Reid announced action could come soon.

SEN. HARRY REID (D-Nev.), majority leader: Let’s assume that I brought this to the floor and immediately filed cloture on it, and it would be a Saturday cloture vote. We will see what we can do to make sure that people feel they have had opportunity to look at the legislation and to make a considered decision on what should be done with their vote on this very, very important point of legislation.

JIM LEHRER: For his part, President Obama warned again that failing to act will hurt the economy.

He spoke before the House Democrats’ vote.

U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Every economist that I have talked to or that I have read over the last couple of days acknowledges that this agreement would boost economic growth in the coming years and has the potential to create millions of jobs.

But, if this framework fails, the reverse is true. Americans would see it in smaller paychecks. That would have the effect of fewer jobs.

JIM LEHRER: Republicans generally stayed on the sidelines today, leaving the president and his fellow Democrats to fight it out.

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida:

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R-Fla.): With this vote today, I don’t really know what’s going to happen. It’s a big question mark. And I always say, that’s a great thing about a democracy, is that we don’t know what’s going to happen.

JIM LEHRER: White House officials said today that, despite the House Democrats’ anger, they still expect the tax cut package to win approval.