House Democrats will not silently accept the White House’s edict that Congress pass the Obama-GOP tax cut compromise unchanged, touching off a brinksmanship that could kill the plan.
At a private meeting of the Democratic caucus this morning, members overwhelmingly rejected the idea that the plan is inviolable by passing a resolution agreeing not to bring up the tax package without changing it first. However, the White House and Republicans insist that the plan is in stone — and any changes would likely prompt a GOP backlash.
The Senate could adopt the proposal as early as tonight, leaving House Democrats a choice between swallowing it, modifying it, or rejecting it and starting from scratch.
After the meeting, though, members and aides stressed that future steps are unclear, and were unable to say that the White House plan won’t pass the House untouched.
“I think a bill will be brought to the floor,” said Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) as he left the meeting. “The Democrats feel pretty strongly that it ought to be changed, especially on the estate tax.”
“She told them that we’re not bringing it up,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Addressing reporters after the meeting, caucus chair John Larson (D-CT) said that Dems are leaving all their procedural options open.
“There are several suggestions, but we are going to put together our improvements,” he said, “Normally this would be referred to the Ways and Means Committee, which will probably be the process that it will go through. And members are making their suggestions and obviously they’re taking them to the leadership.”
“We recognize that [President Obama] was placed in a box,” Larson said. “But members also felt they were placed in a box and had to assert their will.”
At a meeting yesterday, Vice President Joe Biden insisted to angry Dems that the deal must be kept sacrosanct. One Dem aide told me today’s developments show that his visit didn’t magically make members’ concerns go away.
It’s still unclear how much of this is bluster, or whether the Dems might actually tweak the plan in such a way as to cause major GOP defections. We should know more soon.
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.