They Make Their Voice Vote Heard

Steve Benen:

House Democrats haven’t exactly been hiding their disagreement with the tax policy agreement struck by the White House and congressional Republicans. But this morning, that dissatisfaction was registered in a more formal way.

Defying President Obama, House Democrats voted Thursday not to bring up the tax package that he negotiated with Republicans in its current form.

“This message today is very simple: That in the form that it was negotiated, it is not acceptable to the House Democratic caucus. It’s as simple as that,” said Democratic Congressman Chris Van Hollen.

“We will continue to try and work with the White House and our Republican colleagues to try and make sure we do something right for the economy and right for jobs, and a balanced package as we go forward,” he said.

The vote comes a day after Vice President Biden made clear to House Democrats behind closed doors that the deal would unravel if any changes were made.

By all appearances, House Dems weren’t just bothered by policies that made up the compromise, but were also offended in a more personal way — they didn’t feel as if they had sufficient input on the pre-deal negotiations, and were bothered by Vice President Biden’s take-it-or-leave-it message yesterday.

Jon Ward at The Daily Caller:

The vote inside the Democratic meeting was not on the House floor and was a voice vote, and so has no legislative impact. And in the Senate, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he planned to begin debate on the measure Thursday evening.

But the impact of the House Democratic vote reverberated around Washington, and some media reports said inaccurately that House Democrats had decided not to bring the measure up for a vote this year. House Democrats stressed fiercely that those reports were not true.

But the message to Obama was clear: House Democrats want changes to the package.

“It means that there is a very significant portion of the caucus that feels like they can’t accept the deal as it is,” said a House Democratic leadership aide. “They’re especially upset about the estate tax piece, and they want to send a message to the White House that this is just unacceptable.”

The aide said House Democrats would like to see the threshold at which individual estate inheritors are taxed lowered from $5 million, as it currently is in the tax cut deal, to $1 million. They would also like to see the percentage raised from 35 percent to 45 percent.

The decision to hold a non-binding vote was essentially a move by Democrats to negotiate with the White House in public after being left out of private negotiations between the administration and Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican.

A House Democratic aide said that the feeling among the caucus is that the White House was “not acting in good faith” and that there was “some underhanded things going on that is unnerving folks.”

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said that the president does not like where the estate tax is at, but hinted that Republicans would walk away from the deal if there were any changes made to that component.

“The question for [House Democrats] to work through with their Republican counterparts is if you do that, do you lose votes on the other side,” Gibbs said.

“If there are ways to strengthen the framework that are agreeable to everybody and strengthen the coalition that’s good,” he said, but expressed confidence that the House would pass the deal.

“I think at the end of the day this will get done.”

And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, made clear that she still planned to bring the measure to the floor for a vote.

According to the Hill, it’s the estate tax rate that’s the sticking point, not the income tax rate extension for the wealthy. As humiliating as it is to have his own caucus flip him the bird, though, I’m not sure this is so terrible for The One. It depends on whether Pelosi follows the caucus’s wishes and refuses to bring the deal to the floor or whether, as the Daily Caller claims, this is a symbolic gesture by House progressives aimed at showing Obama how badly they want changes. If Pelosi holds a vote on it anyway, the bill would likely still pass thanks to a coalition of Blue Dogs and Republicans, which in turn would give Obama both a legislative victory and a little bipartisan juice that he needs for 2012. In fact, I wonder if there’s an element of kabuki to it, with Pelosi urging her allies to vote no on the proposal in the caucus meeting to generate some political cover knowing full well that she intends to bring it to the floor anyway.

Still, it’s always jolly fun to see Democrats arguing in public. If my read on this feels like a bit of a buzzkill, no worries: Read this excellent Sean Trende piece making the case for why the deal is a political loser for Obama long-term. Clinton could get away with triangulation in the 90s because the lefty base at the time thought conservatism was still going strong and were reluctant to weaken him by opposing him. They don’t believe that anymore — last month’s results notwithstanding — so they may be willing to take chances with The One that they wouldn’t have dared take 15 years ago. Today’s caucus vote might be an early indicator of that. Long live the myth of the Great Liberal Realignment!

Dan McLaughlin at Redstate:

What will happen to Barack Obama’s presidency if his tax compromise is shot down with the help of his own party? The House Democratic caucus just voted against it, which puts the deal on life support, at best. Can Obama recover from that?

One of the great questions of the past two years, ever since it became obvious that Democrats would suffer significant setbacks in the 2010 elections, was how President Obama would respond to life with a Republican Congress (or, as it turns out, a Republican House and a weakened Democratic majority in the Senate). On the one hand, you have the fact that Bill Clinton managed to use the “triangulation” strategy to win re-election in 1996, and surely Obama is capable of being equally cold-bloodedly dismissive of his now-depleted Congressional troops. On the other hand, Obama is naturally much more ideological than Clinton and doesn’t have Clinton’s deft political touch, his decade-long track record as an executive or his experience winning multiple elections outside deep-blue territory, all of which suggests that even if the spirit is willing, Obama may not be competent at executing the same strategy.

Bowing to the results of the 2010 election, Obama has taken at least some tentative, temporary steps towards accomodation with the center. The first of these, which already irritated his base, was the announcement of a “pay freeze” for federal workers (actually just a freeze on annual cost-of-living salary adjustments). Now, he’s struck a deal that gives GOP leadership nearly everything it had asked for on taxes – a two-year extension of all the Bush income tax rate cuts, a payroll tax cut, and a lower estate tax than what would return under current law after the 2010 moratorium in the tax, all in exchange for extending unemployment benefits as far out as three years for some recipients.

Now, both liberals and conservatives are up in arms against the deal, and it’s hard to see how it passes even the House when the Democratic caucus is against it. What happens if the deal falls through?

Jim Geraghty at NRO:

In light of this

President Obama warned his fellow Democrats on Wednesday that they risk plunging the country into a double-dip recession if they reject his tax-cut deal with Republicans.

we can only conclude one of two things:

A) A majority of Congressional Democrats don’t believe the president when he says a particular act is necessary to prevent a double dip recession. In short, most members of Obama’s own party no longer trust his judgment on economic issues.

B) A majority of Congressional Democrats agree, but don’t care, because they’re willing to endure a double dip recession if that’s what it takes to ensure the rich pay higher taxes.

Ed Driscoll at Pajamas Media

David Dayen at Firedoglake

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Filed under Economics, Legislation Pending, The Crisis

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