House Democrats are coming to terms with the fact that a tax cut compromise filled with provisions they despise will pass and be signed into law. On Tuesday night they vented their frustrations to their harried leadership in a private caucus meeting, but emerged acknowledging that they’ve been boxed effectively in by the White House and GOP.
Tomorrow, after the Senate passes the plan President Obama negotiated with Congressional Republicans, Democratic leaders in the House will present their members with an end game. That endgame may involve passing the legislation word for word. Leaders may allow votes on amendments to the Senate-passed bill, and may even allow some minor tweaks to the package. But as far as dramatically tweaking its key provisions — particularly the estate tax — or otherwise endangering the deal, members predict leadership will allow those efforts to fail.
House Majority Whip James Clyburn told reporters tonight that he’d “absolutely” like to see the estate tax provision changed, and to send the bill back to the Senate. “At my age I got over symbolism a long time ago.”
But when I asked him whether he’d whip up support for such a change from his leadership position he laughed. “Good question,” he said.
Before the meeting, Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) said he thinks his leadership might silently whip against any provisions that would tank the bill in the Senate.
“At the end of the day I think we’re going to have to pass a bill,” acknowledged Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA), who’s a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “That’s the view of many of us. The likelihood is if we change the bill, it goes to the Senate, it comes right back.”
That view is dawning on a significant number members, including those whose proposals to change the tax package are at stake.
Rep. David Wu (D-OR) wants the plan changed to ensure that unemployment benefits are extended for the same period of time as are tax cuts benefiting only wealthy Americans. He’s livid with the White House for cutting a Republican-friendly deal, and expects that Obama’s unwillingness to pick a winning fight with the GOP will come back to haunt him.
“This administration thus far has fought nothing, they have shown no fight, no evidence of a future fight, and what they are going to get is two years of hell from the Republican majority,” Wu told a handful of reporters after the caucus meeting.
Wu wants to amend the bill when it reaches the House and send it back to the Senate with his changes included. Confronted with the fact that his leadership seems unwilling to help him affect those changes, Wu demurred.
“I wouldn’t want to judge this from a leadership perspective,” he said. “I think that would be unwise on their part.”
Rep. Brad Sherman (D-CA) wants to swap out the plans payroll tax holiday for a similar provision that would leave Social Security untouched while providing workers with the money they would have received if the payroll tax had been enacted last year. “I propose that instead [of a payroll tax holiday] a check should be mailed in February or March of 2011 to every employee who paid into the Social Security system during 2010,” his plan reads.
But he doubts whether the plan can be tweaked significantly, and says the leadership won’t even have to activate its whip operation to block major changes.
“Let’s face it, there are some of our caucus who agree with the Republicans on the estate tax…. And then there are a few dozen Democrats who, without being whipped, would say ‘I’m going to vote against anything that will kill the bill in the Senate’,” Sherman acknowledged.
“We’ve had our messaging votes,” he said. “I think that we’re going to pass a bill that we think can pass the Senate.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.