JUDY WOODRUFF: The fight over extending the Bush era tax cuts began to play out on the House floor today. Democrats passed a continuation of cuts limited to the middle class. But it was mostly a symbolic move, and negotiations on a compromise continued.
At times today on the House floor, Democrats and Republicans sounded as if they were debating two different tax measures.
REP. SANDER LEVIN (D-Mich.): The time has come. The smokescreen is now being lifted by this bill. You have a chance to stand up or back down on tax cuts on the middle-income families of our country.
CONGRESSMAN: You know what? I have heard the rhetoric of my friends on the other side of the aisle. And as I have studied this bill, I'm still looking to find, where is the tax cut they're talking about? I don't see any cut. All I see is tax increases.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In fact, both sides were talking about a Democratic bill to extend some of the Bush era tax cuts for families making under $250,000 a year and individuals who earn $200,000 or less. Republicans, however, have demanded that the cuts be extended for all income groups, including the very wealthy.
The House debate came as Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House Budget Director Jack Lew met again with negotiators for both sides, looking for a compromise.
And, with that in mind, incoming House Speaker John Boehner objected to even bringing up the Democratic bill.
REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R-OH), House Minority Leader: I'm trying to catch my breath, so I don't refer to this -- this maneuver going on today as chicken crap, all right?
JOHN BOEHNER: But this is nonsense.
JOHN BOEHNER: All right? We're -- the election was one month ago. We're 23 months from the next election. And the political games have already started, trying to set up the next election.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But the leader of the Democratic majority, Steny Hoyer, insisted today's vote will actually help the process.
REP. STENY HOYER (D-MD), Majority Leader: Now, this vehicle is a vehicle that I think will be used and can be used by the other body to effect consensus policy. But let us not hold hostage that on which we agree to that on which we do not agree.
JUDY WOODRUFF: When all was said and done, the House tax cut measure passed 234-188. Twenty Democrats joined all but three Republicans in voting against it.
REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-Calif.), Speaker of the House: The motion is adopted.
JUDY WOODRUFF: But the bill is all but certain to die in the Senate, where Republicans hold 42 seats, enough to block it from even coming up for debate.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell:
SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R-KY), Minority Leader: Wasting time on votes to raise taxes won't create jobs. Right now, House Democrats are getting ready to send us a bill on taxes they know won't pass in the Senate.
JUDY WOODRUFF: All this takes place as President Obama is feeling more heat from liberal groups to hold firm against extending tax cuts for the wealthy.
WOMAN: What's happened to that bold, progressive man we elected president in 2008?
JUDY WOODRUFF: But the very fact of private negotiations suggested the president is preparing to compromise. All he would indicate publicly, as he met with governors today, is optimism lawmakers will get past the political obstacles.
U.S. PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: I believe it will get resolved. That doesn't mean there may not be some posturing over the next several days.
But I'm confident, in the end, people are going to recognize that it's important for families who are still struggling to have some relief and it's important for our economy to make sure that money is still out there circulating, at a time when we are recovering.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The tax cuts expire at the end of this year. So, Mr. Obama and the Congress are under enormous pressure to reach agreement before they adjourn. Otherwise, tax rates will go up for all Americans.
Late today, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement calling the negotiations between Secretary Geithner and members of Congress productive, but added they are not near a deal.