House Democrats will adjourn late this week without holding a last-minute vote on middle-income tax cuts, a top House Democratic aide confirmed to me this afternoon. The decision will dismay dozens of House progressives, and a growing array of observers and aides who believed that Democrats could have gained impressive political advantage by forcing Republicans to choose between giving all Americans a tax cut on their first $250,000, or holding out until the wealthiest Americans were given an additional break as well.
However, a significant number of Democrats, mostly conservative and vulnerable members, believed that upper-income tax cuts should be extended for a year. They were adamant that Republicans would have a stronger political hand going into election season if Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a vote on middle-income cuts in isolation.
Underscoring just how wide the rift dividing in the caucus had grown 39 Democrats today voted with Republicans not to let the House adjourn without extending Bush tax cuts across the board.
In a brief interview outside a House Democratic caucus meeting this afternoon, House Majority Whip James Clyburn explained why the vote will be postponed until after the election, and why so many of his members were ultimately not on board.
“We don’t do things in this caucus unless we get significant, I would say, cohesiveness around these issues,” Clyburn told me. “And I think that in the beginning we didn’t explain well that this is a middle-income tax cut. And I think the extent to which we allowed it to go out as a middle-class tax cut and everybody who’s not in the middle class says ‘what’s in it for me?’”
Clyburn explained, “Middle income tax cut means that everybody that makes income up to $250,000 gets a tax cut. Now, if you make another million on top of the $250,000, you still get a tax cut on your $250,000. And that was not understood.”
I’ve heard it misrepresented time and time again in the media. And so that’s what caused this problem. I think that if we’d gone out there from the beginning and everybody understood that, I think the attitude would’ve been different.
Democrats will soon return to their districts in the final 30-day stretch before the November midterms and fend off growing Republican attacks over their failure to vote. Republicans have made it clear for some time that unless Congress extended all of the Bush tax cuts, they’ll go on the offensive.
If Democrats had voted on President Obama’s plan (to extend middle-income cuts, but let tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire) Republicans would have run specious ads accusing Democrats of raising taxes on small-businesses. Now that Dems have decided to delay the vote until after the election, Republicans will hit them for exacerbating uncertainty for business owners. A number of House Democrats concluded that the latter line of attack will be easier to fend off.
I asked Clyburn whether he and his members were satisfied with the political consequences of their decision.
“Yeah, because too many people have now made up their mind that if I make $252,000 I’m going to be in that upper category, and the fact is you’re only in that category for $2000,” he said.
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 email@example.com.