The circumstances and the issues may be different, but once again Congressional Democrats are poised to spend the days before Christmas locked in an intraparty squabble over a top domestic priority.
Last year’s health care reform marathon saw the public insurance option — a top liberal priority — whittled away. This year, the fight among Democrats is over the pieces of a $900 billion tax cut package brokered by President Barack Obama that includes controversial items such as estate tax relief and tax cuts for upper-income Americans. And none of liberals’ other wants — such as ending “don’t ask, don’t tell” or passing the DREAM Act for illegal immigrants — have been able to break through Republican opposition.
The Senate took its last vote on Christmas Eve last year, and at least one chamber could easily find itself in a similar position this year.
In many ways, the endgames of 2009 and 2010 are mirror images. While last year’s health care debate dragged on because of moderate unrest over Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s health care blueprint, this year’s final fight comes from the Democrats’ left flank, with liberals outraged over what they see as Obama’s tax cut giveaway.
The internecine rebellion boiled over last week in the House, where the Democratic Caucus resolved not to bring up a bill unless changes were made — and one frustrated Member even muttered “F--- the president” during one of the party’s closed-door meetings.
And across the Dome, Sen. Bernie Sanders spent Friday mounting an hours-long crusade to build opposition to the package, including the payroll tax deduction that the president touted as good for the middle class. “Trust me, it is not to put more money in the pockets of working families; it’s the ultimate destruction of Social Security,” he charged.
Sanders was joined by several Democrats, including Sen. Sherrod Brown (Ohio) who, in an exchange with the Vermont Independent, argued, “Why would we continue an economic policy that clearly didn’t work for this country?” during the Bush administration.
Even moderate Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) took a turn. During a Friday colloquy with Sanders, she argued that the agreement “borders on moral recklessness.”
But the deal appears to be gaining momentum anyway. Reid set up a procedural vote for today on a slightly tweaked version of the measure, which as of Sunday afternoon had secured the support of at least 18 Democratic Senators.
Reid was following Obama’s lead, even though he, too, had problems with the package and wasn’t directly involved in its crafting. Several Democratic aides said that while Reid knew Vice President Joseph Biden was negotiating with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the Nevada Democrat had assumed the White House would deliver a compromise much friendlier to Democrats. Like many of his colleagues, Reid was surprised to learn that items like a generous estate tax provision were included.