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Speaker Nancy Pelosi has never been one to shy away from a fight. But she appears to have made the calculation that selling a tax cut plan she doesn’t like and did not have a hand in negotiating won’t pay her any dividends.
Democrats are deeply divided over the tax cut deal President Barack Obama struck last week with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and Pelosi and her lieutenants understand the difficulty they face in trying to change it.
Senators voted overwhelmingly — 81-19 — for the measure on Wednesday, and there is a good chance the House will follow their lead today in approving it unchanged. The measure is expected to win the support of most House Republicans and a healthy share of Democrats, leaving Pelosi in a weaker position than she’s been used to over the past four years when she’s dictated the legislative agenda.
“She realizes that it’s a foregone conclusion that it’s going to pass the House,” said a senior Democratic aide with ties to moderates. “The one thing I think everyone can agree on about the Speaker is that she doesn’t like to lose a vote. ... Why would she go out there in the mode to take something down when she knows it would just blow up in her face? ... She doesn’t want to look like a fool.”
Today’s tax cut vote marks the first major legislative battle since Nov. 2, when Democrats lost the majority and Pelosi lost the Speaker’s gavel. Pelosi decided to stay on as Minority Leader in the next Congress despite the objections from some in her Caucus who wanted a change. Forty-three moderates voted for Rep. Heath Shuler (N.C.) instead.
Rep. G.K. Butterfield said he has witnessed a noticeable change in the Speaker’s style since the midterm elections.
“During the push-back the other day on the tax cut package, she listened,” the North Carolina Democrat said. “It was very refreshing.”
“I watch her and she listens to people,” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) said. “You can see when she’s listening.”
Rep. Joe Crowley also acknowledged a shift in Pelosi’s demeanor. The New York Democrat said Pelosi’s taking a “nuanced” approach and that the entire leadership team has been in “listening mode” on the $858 billion tax package, which would extend all George W. Bush-era tax cuts for two years, prolong unemployment benefits for 13 months and cut payroll taxes by 2 percent for a year.
House Democrats voted last week against bringing the deal to the floor without changes — they are particularly unhappy with its estate tax provisions — and Pelosi said she would heed the will of her Members.
Still, Democratic leaders have opted not to block the package completely. Crowley said there is “a recognition that they want to be helpful to the president.”