Endangered House Democrats have to get out of town now — and not stick around for votes on tax cuts — if they are going to save their seats, retiring Blue Dog Rep. John Tanner (D-Tenn.) told Democrats at a Caucus meeting Thursday morning.
Tanner, the dean of House moderates who is not seeking a 12th term this fall, told the Caucus that he was speaking for Members who could not speak for themselves, according to a Democratic aide.
Given "the Senate's inability to come to grips with anything," Tanner later told Roll Call, House leaders should punt on the debate until after the elections. Democrats have been wrestling with whether and how to pass an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts, set to expire at the end of the year.
"I think probably the best thing to do now is just go home," Tanner said. "None of this that I've heard has any more urgency now than it would in November when we come back."
Voting now "doesn't help anybody when the Senate can't act," he said. "The Senate's inability to do anything has crippled the House to some degree and so we ought to go home. There's no urgency. Nothing's going to expire before the first of the year. So we can do it in November if the Senate can do it then. They obviously cannot do it now."
A sympathetic Democratic aide said the question now is whether Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) takes Tanner's advice.
"Is she going to let people go home or is she going to keep us here to take a tax cut vote that's really stupid?" the aide asked.
But Pelosi has been enamored of the idea, pushed by pollster Stan Greenberg, that a big tax cut fight will help energize the Democratic Party base heading into November. And Reps. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) and Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) also floated a new attempt at a compromise and said Democrats had to vote before adjourning.
Pascrell said they disagreed strongly with moderate Democrats who preferred to wait until after the elections to deal with the issue.
"That's the worst thing to do," he said. "You have to reduce the anxieties immediately. That's what's holding back Americans from spending money — people who have assets who are sitting on it wondering, What's going to happen to the tax cuts?'"
Pascrell said acting now on his compromise proposal could reduce some of that anxiety and help the economy.
Capuano said it shouldn't be too hard. "I want to go home too, but this should be an easy vote," he said. "Put it up on suspension and let people vote for middle-class tax cuts."
Pascrell and Capuano's compromise plan would extend tax cuts for people making less than $500,000 a year for a year, while middle-class, capital gains and dividend tax cuts would be extended for five years.
One former senior Hill aide with close ties to the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition said it would be surprising if there were a vote on tax cuts before the midterms, predicting that Pelosi ultimately would bend to pressure from moderates in competitive races.
"Getting a vote in the House may be as difficult as trying to get a vote in the Senate because of the dynamics of the growing number that seem to be looking at just extending everything for a year," the former aide said. "House leadership has been promising that there would be no tough, difficult votes and I think that there are a lot of Members who would think that just doing a part of the tax cuts would be a difficult vote."
Democratic leaders have been discussing putting one or more tax cut measures on the floor under suspension of the rules, which would require Republican votes to pass. But leadership opposes on policy grounds extensions of the Bush tax cuts for the rich, and moderates don't want to take a vote on legislation that extends tax cuts only for the middle class, especially with the Senate unlikely to take action on a similar plan.
Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.), meanwhile, has been working to find votes for middle-class tax cuts.
"As Whip, I have been counting votes for President Barack Obama's tax cut and I like the votes that are there for an extension of President Obama's tax cuts," he said.
And Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson said House Democrats unanimously support extending the middle-class tax cuts.
"The anxiety comes from what our erstwhile colleagues across the building will do in the United States Senate and that's where discussions still emanate from," the Connecticut Democrat said. "That's the concern as we go forward."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also continued Thursday to peg House action to the Senate. "We need to find out what the Senate's going to do."
Anna Palmer contributed to this report.