Liberal concerns delay House vote on tax-cut deal

President Barack Obama says he is 'absolutely convinced' that the tax deal pending in Congress will create jobs and is calling on Congress to pass the bill.
By Lori Montgomery and Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, December 16, 2010; 5:19 PM

A liberal uprising over House procedures on Thursday was delaying a final vote on a far-reaching tax compromise brokered by the White House and Republican leaders.

Dozens of Democrats were demanding an opportunity to cast a vote to change an estate tax provision they view as too generous for the wealthy without also approving the rest of the package as passed by the Senate. That package contains a two-year extension of George W. Bush administration tax policies that benefit families at all income levels, including the very wealthiest Americans. Democrats have complained for years about those provisions and want an opportunity to vote against them.

Senior Democrats said the delay was unlikely to derail the package, which is intended to prevent tax rates from rising in January for virtually every household. "I expect we will pass this agreement that the Senate passed 81 to 19," said Rep. Robert E. Andrews (D-N.J.), who often speaks for House leadership.

But the revolt appeared likely to postpone a final vote on the $858 billion measure until late in the evening.

Rep. Raul M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) explained the reservations that some liberals had to the process originally devised by House leaders. That process would have brought two versions of the Senate-passed package to the House floor. The first version would have contained everything in the Senate bill, including the upper-income cuts, but would have amended the estate tax provisions to hit more estates with a higher tax. The second version contained the Senate bill as passed.

Grijalva said liberals wanted to vote for the estate tax amendments but worried that if the first version passed, they would also have been put in the awkward position of having endorsed tax policies they fiercely oppose.

"Let's say you vote for the amendment and you concur with that exception, you're swallowing everything else," Grijalva said. "You're kind of in a trap. You have to vote 'no' on it, and then so you can preserve your ability to vote 'no' on the final passage. So that's where the dilemma has been.... It's a very stressful vote for everybody in the caucus, and this just added a little additional drama because we felt that we were getting set up. Regardless of how we win, we're still going to lose. So if we're going to lose, let's lose with a strong message."

House leaders initially proposed adding a third vote that would have permitted liberals to vote for the amended version but then vote against sending it back to the Senate for further action. But after huddling with Democratic leaders on the House floor, Rep. Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.) said liberals were pushing for a new and broader amendment that would include changes to the estate tax, substitute the president's signature Making Work Pay tax credit for a two-percentage point reduction in the Social Security payroll tax and add a $250 bonus payment for Social Security recipients who are being denied a cost of living increase for the second year in a row.

"We are looking for a broader alternative than just the vote on the estate tax," DeFazio said. "This is the last opportunity we have.... People are paying attention now, and we think we need to make a strong statement."

The tumult in the House comes one day after the tax package sailed through the Senate, 81 to 19, as a majority of senators in both parties voted to keep the Bush administration tax cuts in place for families at all income levels for another two years.

The package would add even more to the rising national debt over the next decade than the $814 billion stimulus President Obama pushed through Congress soon after taking office. But the strong Senate vote underscored the concern among lawmakers in both parties about the sluggish pace of recovery and an unemployment rate stuck near 10 percent.

In a statement celebrating the Senate vote - his first big bipartisan victory since Republicans strengthened their hand in Congress in the November midterm elections - Obama exhorted House members to set aside their concerns and support a package he described as "a win for American families, American businesses and our economic recovery."

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2010 The Washington Post Company