The White House hoped to set its tax cut compromise on a glide path: announce a deal, pass it in the Senate, pass an identical version in the House, sign it, move on to the next big thing.
But yesterday, after House Democrats voted no confidence in the Obama plan, that’s anything but certain. And with House Democrats vowing to tweak the package the Senate sends over next week, the White House is scrambling to make sure that doesn’t happen.
“We are in the contact with the leaders in both houses and lots of individual members,” said White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer on a conference call with reporters yesterday.
A broad canvas of House and Senate aides, both Democrats and Republicans, suggests that nobody — not in the House leadership, not in the rank and file, not in the Senate — has any idea what the consequences of this gambit will be.
Most sources expect that this is more bluster than power play — that ultimately the legislation the White House wants will pass the House. But that doesn’t square with the loud promises prominent Democrats are making to change the legislation. And though they don’t come right out and say it, Republicans strongly suggest that they’ll bolt if the agreement is tweaked dramatically.
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (MD) has left Dem leadership enough breathing room to allow for the possibility that the House will pass the Senate’s legislation word for word. “We may make some changes and send it back to the Senate,” he said yesterday.
But from any angle, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stuck. If she brings the bill to the floor, and works reluctantly with Republicans and a few dozen Democrats to pass it word for word, it will bruise the vast majority of her party. If she tweaks it, she risks sinking the whole thing against the will of the President.
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.