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Democrats, Facing Revolt, Pull Rule on Tax Bill

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Updated: 2:05 p.m.

House Democratic leaders have pulled the rule for floor debate on a tax cut and unemployment benefit extension in the face of a revolt from rank-and-file Members who oppose the measure.

Rep. Jim McGovern pulled the rule just moments before the vote on it was slated to begin. The Massachusetts Democrat said the rule sparked concerns from Democrats who did not want to have to vote for the underlying bill in order to support changing its estate tax language. Many liberal Democrats vehemently oppose the extension package but would back it if the estate tax language were changed. 

The rule was written to allow one vote on the bill with altered estate tax language and then, if that failed, a second vote would occur on the version of the bill that the Senate passed overwhelmingly Wednesday. 

“People have a lot of different issues,” McGovern said. “Some of that [is] based on some facts. Some of them we just have to explain what the rule is. But we’re just going to take time and do it.” 

He said he still expected a tax vote Thursday.

“We’re just trying to work out some kinks,” said McGovern, who downplayed the significance of the problem. 

One option would be for the Rules Committee to meet again and craft an entirely new rule, McGovern said, adding that a path forward had not yet been decided. House and Senate Democratic leaders were huddling in Pelosi’s office Thursday afternoon. 

“There’s some questions,” McGovern said. “We’re going to take some time and look at some of this stuff.”

“We’re discussing what those options are at the moment,” Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said after a meeting in Pelosi's office.

Slaughter said she was headed to her office to discuss the options with the parliamentarian. “Just about everybody” was upset with the rule, Slaughter said, “including me” because it would present Democrats with a dilemma. In order to vote to change the bill's estate tax provisions, they would in effect have to vote for the underlying bill.

Slaughter also said that she’s not committed to finishing the bill Thursday and noted that it would be hard to get out of town anyway.

Democrats had yet to reach out to Republican leaders to seek votes for the rule.

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer predicted that Democratic leaders would try to change the tax rule on the floor, rather than go back to the Rules Committee.

“There may be an effort to do that,” the Maryland Democrat said, adding that House leaders were “going to move forward.”

Democratic leaders were simultaneously trying to map out a strategy for a massive omnibus spending bill to avoid a government shutdown.

According to sources in both the House and Senate, the House is likely to pass a short-term continuing resolution to fund the government beyond Saturday, when the current CR expires.

The omnibus measure, which the Senate was expected to move to later Thursday, may not have the votes to pass either chamber. In the Senate, support for the bill has eroded significantly over the last few days, and the longer it is stalled the harder it will be for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to muster the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster.

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