House Schedules Vote on Middle-Class Tax Cuts

BY Quinn Bowman and Terence Burlij  December 2, 2010 at 8:25 AM EST

The Morning Line
House Democrats scheduled a vote Thursday on permanently extending the tax breaks for middle-income Americans as a bipartisan group of lawmakers and two top Obama administration officials negotiated a compromise behind closed doors.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Wednesday that Democrats and Republicans both want to keep in place the Bush-era income tax cuts for individuals who earn $200,000 or less and families with incomes of up to $250,000.

“We have agreement on that. There is not agreement on other aspects of the tax issue, as you all know. But it is a shame that what we have agreement on is being held hostage by that on which we do not have agreement,” Hoyer told reporters during his weekly press briefing.

Republicans, who contend the tax cuts should be extended for all Americans, including the wealthy, objected to the maneuver.

“This is nothing more than political chicanery and undermines the President’s ongoing discussions and efforts on tax rates,” House Majority Leader-Elect Eric Cantor said in a statement.

The New York Times editorial page, a reliable ally for House Democrats, gives voice to the liberal disappointment in anticipation of an eventual defeat on a middle class only extension.

“Congressional Democrats were too timid to bring the issue up for a vote before the election and took a beating anyway. Now they are faced with extending the tax cuts in the lame-duck session and are bound to extend some or all of the cuts for the rich. The only real question is in exchange for what, if anything?”

Even if the vote in the House is successful – and the prospects for such an outcome are still uncertain, as a handful of House Democrats have also said the tax breaks for all Americans should be extended – the path forward in the Senate is blocked for the time being. All 42 Senate Republicans sent a letter Wednesday to Majority Leader Harry Reid indicating they would stop any legislative action from being considered on the floor until an agreement is reached on tax cuts and a government funding measure is approved.

Off the floor Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Budget Director Jack Lew met with four lawmakers to work out a deal on the tax cuts. The officials were expected to continue talks Thursday with the two Democrats, Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus and Maryland Rep. Chris Van Hollen, and two Republicans, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl and Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, who will chair the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee in the next Congress.

Lawmakers are under pressure to reach an agreement before they adjourn for the year. If they don’t, taxes on all Americans would increase after Dec. 31, a prospect neither side wants to see happen.

TEA TIME

Although current RNC Chairman Michael Steele has not announced whether he will seek another term as chairman of the party, several Republicans are already vying for his job in light of a rocky chairmanship for Steele marked by mistakes and bad press.

Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele
Republican National Committee Chairman Michael Steele participates in the launching of the ‘Fire Pelosi’ bus tour on Sept. 15, 2010, in Washington, D.C. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

On Wednesday four people hoping to bring a new era of leadership to the party spent two hours answering questions at a candidate forum sponsored by FreedomWorks – which has established itself as the Washington “service center” for the Tea Party movement. In conjunction with the Republican National Conservative Caucus, part of the Republican National Committee, FreedomWorks allowed activists and party members to ask questions of the candidates both in person and via the Web.

It was billed by FreedomWorks as part of the “grassroots takeover” of the GOP by Tea Party activists.

The participants included former Michigan Republican Party Chairman Saul Anuzis, former Missouri RNC Member and Ambassador to Luxemborg Ann Wagner, former RNC Chairman Mike Duncan and former RNC Political Director Gentry Collins.

While none of the candidates seemed eager to bash Steele during the forum, they all criticized him indirectly for not raising enough money for the party in the 2010 election cycle. Collins recently resigned from his post at the RNC via a public letter, which did not contain outright criticism of Steele for his inability to attract major donors.

After an activist from Pennsylvania complained that Tea Party groups in her area were forced to take up the Republican Party’s slack on the ground during the 2010 cycle, the candidates all agreed that the way to fix the issue was to raise more money for the party. You can listen to what they had to say:

Gentry Collins -RNC political director

Mike Duncan -former RNC chairman

Saul Anuzis -former Michigan Republican Party chairman

Ann Wagner -former Missouri Republican Party chairwoman

At least one of the activists who was able to ask a question was not satisfied by what she heard from the candidates. Dee Armstrong, who is part of the Blue Ridge Patriots in West Virginia, said she felt the candidates were patronizing in answering her question as to how they would integrate the Tea Party into the RNC.

Listen to Armstrong here:

Dee Armstrong

JUDGMENT DAY

New York Democratic Rep. Charles Rangel will face a censure vote on the House floor Thursday, Majority Leader Hoyer told reporters Wednesday.

The House Ethics Committee recommended 9-1 that Rangel face the punishment for 11 violations of House rules, including failure to pay taxes on a villa in the Dominican Republic and using his office to solicit money for a college center bearing his name.

A censure is the most severe punishment available short of expulsion from the House. If the House votes for censure, Rangel will have to stand in front of his peers on the House floor as the Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, gives him a formal rebuke.

During the ethics hearings Rangel was defiant, arguing that while he had made mistakes, he was not a corrupt person. He has represented the Harlem neighborhood in New York City for 40 years.