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Centrist Democrats Fear Tax Cut Follies

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Several House Democrats are raising doubts about leadership plans to hold a vote to extend only middle-class tax cuts, saying the strategy — designed to bolster Democrats’ 2012 election prospects — could backfire.

President Barack Obama’s 11th-hour decision to tap Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Budget Director Jacob Lew to lead a bipartisan group charged with seeking compromise on the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts did not appear as of late Tuesday to have changed House Democratic leaders’ plans to schedule a symbolic vote this week on extending the tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 a year and families earning less than $250,000 a year.

House leaders argue that the vote — which they say the majority of the Caucus wants to have and will support — will help Democrats make the case that they are on the side of the middle class and draw a contrast with Republicans, who want an across-the-board extension of the tax cuts for all income brackets. The tax cuts expire at year’s end.

But some centrist Democrats, who prefer a short-term extension of tax cuts for all income brackets, worry that having a vote this week on just the middle-class tax cuts leaves them vulnerable to GOP attacks claiming that they effectively supported a tax increase for higher wage earners.

Compounding their frustration is the fact that there almost certainly will not be 60 votes in the Senate to pass just the middle-class tax-cut extension. Some centrist lawmakers are questioning why Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team would press ahead with a strategy that many say contributed to the 63-seat loss that House Democrats suffered
Nov. 2.

“So many of the votes that were cast hurt so many of our Members that are no longer here that you’d think we would have learned from those mistakes,” said Rep. Heath Shuler, a leader of the conservative Blue Dog Coalition.

The North Carolina Democrat — who garnered 43 votes Nov. 17 when he staged a protest bid for Minority Leader in the 112th Congress against the California Democrat — said he preferred a short-term extension for all income brackets that was fully paid for, but that “the most important thing is what can the Senate ultimately do.”

Another Blue Dog leader, Rep. Mike Ross, also said he was troubled by talk of a middle-class tax vote.

“You would think they would have learned a lesson on Nov. 2 from that,” the Arkansas Democrat said. “I saw a lot of good friends get beat in this last election because they were forced to take votes that we knew weren’t going anywhere in the Senate. I don’t know why you would force Members to cast a vote on something that you know is going to die in the Senate.”

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