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Thursday, December 16, 2010


Pelosi scrambles to save Obama tax package after scrapped vote

Democratic leaders are scrambling to save President Obama’s tax proposal after a liberal insurrection forced House leaders to postpone a planned vote on the measure Thursday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) hastily called a meeting of the Democratic caucus for Thursday afternoon to try to forge a consensus that would allow the bill to move forward late Thursday night or early Friday. Democratic leaders scrapped a procedural vote earlier in the afternoon after they realized it was likely to fail.

Liberal lawmakers who are opposed to the compromise Obama reached with Republicans objected to the procedure the House Rules Committee approved Wednesday, saying it did not give them a clean opportunity to vote against the legislation.

That procedure would have allowed a vote only on a lone amendment to the estate-tax provision of the bill. If that measure passed, the entire tax bill would return to the Senate, meaning lawmakers would have, in effect, approved the underlying measure with the single change raising the estate tax to a level preferred by Democrats. If the estate-tax amendment failed — which was expected — then the House would have voted on the underlying Senate bill.

“We are looking for a broader alternative than just a vote on the estate tax,” a leading critic of the overall proposal, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), said as he walked off the House floor.

While the tax bill is ultimately expected to win approval in the House, frustrated Democrats can keep the measure off the floor until they are satisfied with the amendment process. Senate Republicans have vowed to oppose any changes to the legislation.

Pelosi convened an extraordinary and impromptu huddle of more than a dozen House Democrats on the floor Thursday, during which Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) could be seen making an animated pitch to the Speaker for an alternative amendment.

“My brain is going to blow up after this,” an exasperated Rep. Mike Quigley (D-Ill.) said as he left the scrum.

Lawmakers said House leaders are now considering a plan that would allow a vote on a Weiner amendment containing several changes to the bill that reflect a range of Democratic priorities. That measure would extend Bush-era tax cuts only for Americans making less than $1 million, raise the estate tax, replace the 2 percent payroll tax cut with another tax credit included in last year’s stimulus package and add a $250 cost-of-living adjustment for seniors on Social Security. With opposition from Republicans and dozens of Blue-dog Democrats, that amendment would be expected to fail but would give critics of the Obama-GOP deal an opportunity to get their votes on the record.

“This is the last opportunity we have,” DeFazio said.

The delay underscored the fraught politics of the tax compromise, which has angered and divided House Democrats. Just a week ago, the caucus voted nearly unanimously to reject the Obama proposal, but House leaders moved ahead with the bill anyway after the Senate overwhelmingly approved it Wednesday.

Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.) said the setbacks won’t prevent the House from passing the Senate bill Thursday night, and leadership aides said a vote was still planned before lawmakers head home for the evening.

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