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Deal on Tax Cuts Rankles Hill Democrats

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid refused to say Tuesday whether he would support the measure to extend all expiring Bush-era tax cuts.

House and Senate Democrats remained deeply skeptical of President Barack Obama’s tax cut deal Tuesday, after a full-day sales pitch by White House officials that the agreement with the GOP is the best they could get given the circumstances.

Despite a mid-afternoon visit to the Senate by Vice President Joseph Biden to try to calm Democratic nerves — and a nationally televised press conference by Obama in which he chided Democrats over their “ideological purity” — party leadership in both chambers remained noncommittal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.), normally one of the loudest cheerleaders for any White House proposal, refused to say whether he would support the bill. Reid said after the meeting with Biden that he would “do what’s best” for the country and that “I think we’re going to have to do some more work” to build support.

During the meeting with Democrats, aides said, lawmakers were often openly combative with the vice president. “Biden got an unfriendly reception. Lots of hostile questioning and grousing, particularly about the estate tax. Senators were not on their best behavior,” a senior Democratic aide said.

Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) refused to comment after the meeting, repeatedly telling reporters, “I’m not talking.”

Senate Democrats, who will likely take up the bill sometime late this week or early next week, are set to meet today to further discuss the measure in hopes of beginning to build support.

House leaders were equally cool to the deal, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) criticizing the agreement while refusing to say she would oppose it. When asked what else House Democrats might seek to make the deal more palatable, Pelosi said, “To be continued.”

House Democratic leaders first learned about the White House deal with Senate Republicans from a press report in the Daily Caller, according to a Democratic source familiar with the negotiations. Particularly galling for Democrats is that a number of administration officials were told that including any sort of estate tax proposal was a real problem. Some Democrats thought this was not a make-or-break item for Republicans, but the administration gave in anyway.

House Democrats are also irritated that Obama negotiated the deal mostly with Senate Republicans.

Asked whether he thought House Democrats had enough input before Obama announced the deal, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said, “I don’t think House Democrats think so.”

Other top Democrats also ripped into the deal, and the reaction from rank-and-file Members was even worse.

“It makes everyone yelling ‘deficit, deficit’ the biggest hypocrites in the world,” House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said. 

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