House Democrats outraged by the $900 billion tax cut deal President Barack Obama negotiated with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) are trying to build momentum to amend it, but they appear to lack the leverage they need to get very far.
The clock is working against liberals — in a few weeks, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) will be Speaker and have the power to set the agenda. And Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) appears to be moving toward a vote in the Senate, saying Wednesday that he hoped to have the tax package on the floor in the next several days. If the Senate approves the deal by the end of the week, Members could send it to the House for consideration sometime next week.
The odds aren’t discouraging the Democrats’ liberal base, which hopes at the very least to send Obama a message to fight harder for their priorities before agreeing to a compromise.
“Everyone’s really up in arms here,” Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said.
Education and Labor Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.), a top ally of outgoing Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), said Members were “scouring the bill” to see what they could add or subtract to allay Democrats’ concerns. Miller outlined several items the Caucus hopes to change, including a $10 million estate tax exemption, the lack of investment in items such as clean energy tax credits and the bill’s skewing of tax breaks to the top end of the income scale.
“When you are giving a tax increase to people under $40,000 a year and giving tax breaks to the top 1 percent, there is something wrong with that,” Miller argued.
Under the plan, lower-income families would lose out on Obama’s “Making Work Pay” tax credit. Sources say that was cut to make way for a 2 percent payroll tax break for all wage earners.
A Republican source said the White House wanted to keep the credit but McConnell refused.
Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) said he didn’t see much of an opportunity to change the deal now. And when he asked whether he thought the administration had the votes to pass it as it stands, Frank said, “I’m afraid they do.”
Neither Obama nor Republicans seem willing to make any changes to the framework, which the president announced at a press conference Monday night. Congressional Democrats have complained that the deal was hatched without their input.
“The agreement is essentially final,” McConnell said Tuesday.
“What we agreed to is what we agreed to,” a senior GOP Senate aide added.
Liberals don’t appear to be listening.
“I still haven’t seen what the president has agreed to with Republicans,” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) complained. “The president has seen it. Republicans have seen it. But we haven’t seen it.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.