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Pelosi Sits on Tax Cut Sidelines

Tom Williams/Roll Call

One Democratic Member argued that Pelosi hasn’t suddenly slipped into obscurity. Rather, this Member said Pelosi’s role is reflective of the larger position of the Democratic Caucus, which was left out of the negotiations that led to the final tax bill. “This is a different situation,” the lawmaker said. “We were not directly involved in this, and that was never the case before the election. We were the leaders. We were the ones getting these things passed.”

Behind the scenes, the Democratic Member said, Pelosi has “been very out there trying to explain the situation to Caucus members,” noting that she spoke on the issue for roughly 25 minutes Tuesday night at a closed-door meeting.

Pelosi isn’t known to sit in the shadows, however. As Speaker, she very publicly championed the party’s most controversial and high-profile priorities such as health care reform and cap-and-trade. But Democrats noted that Pelosi has been a fierce opponent of extending the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for wealthy Americans, a core piece of the tax measure. “It’s been clear in leadership meetings and Caucus meetings, she doesn’t like this deal,” another senior Democratic aide said. “It puts her in a really difficult position to go out and try to sell it. So she isn’t.”

Pelosi has forcefully advocated for extending the tax cuts for the middle class, and has made clear she opposes the Senate package’s provisions dealing with the estate tax. In recent days, Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (Md.) have taken the lead in publicly outlining Democrats’ objections to the Senate package and providing clues on the House strategy for taking up the measure.

Pelosi’s handling of the tax cut issue may also speak to how she is likely to deal with the White House and its agenda next year. In this case, Democrats said Pelosi has been able to send a message to the president and her Caucus that she will not carry water for the administration on policies with which she does not agree.

“She’s doing the right thing to say, ‘Hey, White House, you still need the other side of the Congress to pass things,’” Cuellar said.

A Democratic leadership aide predicted that Pelosi would find herself at odds with Obama more often should her legislative priorities differ from his.

“In the minority, she’ll continue to fight for the values held by the Democratic Caucus even if they differ from the president,” the aide said. “It was her finding the path and finding the way to pass the president’s agenda over the last two years, and now that the White House has decided to take the lead, the House-White House dynamic could change a bit. But she’ll still play the same role: fighting for the priorities of the Democratic Caucus.”

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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