Speaker Nancy Pelosi tonight implored House Democrats in a private meeting to consider a pre-election vote on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class while letting those for the rich expire, framing the debate in partisan terms.
Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee told TPM after the caucus that Pelosi ended the meeting with a “resounding” and impassioned speech that fired up the Democrats and might even have brought more on board for a vote.
“She made it clear it’s a black and white issue of who do you stand with,” Lee told TPM. “It’s the middle class and they need to know we are pushing for them. We have to say it over and over again. They’ve gotta see it, smell it, sense it, taste it.”
Lee (D-TX) said that Democrats should be as consistent as President Obama has been, and attempt to define the Republicans as favoring the rich.
As we highlighted earlier, Democratic leaders were in temperature-taking mode tonight. They laid out several options for voting now, but tried to listen to members to get the discussion started since everyone had only been back in town for five hours.
Pollster Stan Greenberg also presented the caucus with some data showing the tax cuts issue helps energize the base, a stat members responded to well, a Democratic aide present during the meeting told TPM. The aide said some members suggested that tax cuts could be moved quickly, or that it wasn’t an issue for them back home, but that most members were supportive of Pelosi’s position.
TPM spoke with several Democratic members on background and they confirmed that there was not a clear consensus to emerge out of the meeting. Most said they think leadership will put forward a vote to extend the middle class tax cuts only, but perhaps allow for a procedural vote that would satisfy those members who want to at least be on the record for extending the cuts for every income bracket.
The members facing tough challenges want a vote before the election. Members without a challenge said they’d rather push it off since the cuts don’t expire until 2011.
The official line from Rep. Chris Van Hollen as he dashed out of the meeting was that a “great majority” of Democrats support Obama’s position - extending the cuts for only the first $250,000 of income. Van Hollen (D-MD) told reporters that Obama laid out a clear contrast between the parties, with Republicans wanting to be for the richest 2 percent. He said it was all about “listening to different views” and that it’s “not as if there are alternatives being laid out.”
Van Hollen stressed that the Senate is an obstacle, and reporters pressed him to say if there will be a vote for purely political and symbolic reasons given that reality. “There may well be a vote, I don’t know yet,” he said.
“These are the kind of issues that will be resolved in the coming days,” Van Hollen said.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA) told TPM pointedly he wants at least a temporary extension, saying that he’s on the same page as former OMB director Peter Orszag. He said it “could do some harm” if the tax rates go up when the tax cuts expire as scheduled.
I told Connolly that the White House cited his support for extending the cuts temporarily as a wrinkle in their big plans. “They said that? I sure don’t want to complicate anything for anybody,” he told me.
He added, “A strong majority of the caucus is of the point of view to keep them for $250,000 and under, and they will stay there. Ours is the minority view, even though we’re gaining some.”
For her part, Pelosi would not tip her hand when reporters chased her to the elevator bank following the meeting. She said only that it was “wonderful” to hear from members. Asked if she could support a vote extending the tax cuts for everyone for two years, Pelosi said that isn’t something she expects to happen, but wouldn’t elaborate.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer was similarly coy, telling reporters that Democrats are “committed to the policy, and that policy is to absolutely ensure that Republican phasing out of the middle-class tax cuts will not happen. That’s what they adopted at the beginning of the Bush administration — that they would phase it out, and it would end.”
He added, “We’ll have to see from that point in time, over the next week or so, what happens here and in the United States Senate … how we proceed to accomplish that goal.”
Check out all of TPM’s tax cuts coverage here.
Additional reporting by Brian Beutler