Frustrated on Tax Bill, Democrats Strike Back on Suspension Votes

Posted June 3, 2003 at 4:04pm

House Democrats, frustrated that Republican leaders will not bring the minority’s major initiatives to the floor, struck back Tuesday by voting down two bills under suspension.

Democrats had been seeking unanimous consent to bring up their just-introduced legislation to provide tax benefits to low-income families, an item removed late in negotiations from the recently passed tax bill .

Denied, they then voted down the Zuni Indian Tribe Water Rights Settlement Act of 2003 and the Grand Teton National Park Land Exchange Act. Both bills needed two-thirds approval as they were being considered under suspension of the rules, which is usually home to noncontroversial legislation.

Explaining his party’s actions, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said: “Democrats represent about 140 million Americans, but the Republican leadership has utter disregard for this fact and regularly refuses to allow us to bring our alternatives and issues to the floor for full debate. So we are forced to take such action as we did today to make sure that the voices of almost half of America are heard.”

Perhaps in retaliation, Republicans then led the effort to shoot down a suspension bill that would have named a federal courthouse after former Sen. Birch Bayh (D-Ind.), father of Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.).

Spokesmen for Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Miss.) did not comment on the floor protest by this posting.

In seeking unanimous consent, Democrats were trying to restore a provision affecting low-income families.

While many couples with children will now get a bigger deduction thanks to the $350 billion package, workers earning between $10,500 and $26,625 will not be able to take full advantage of the change, according to the liberal Center on Policy and Budget Priorities.

For example, married families earning between $10,500 and $16,500 with one child will receive no benefit, nor will those earning up to $26,625 and having three children, according to the think tank.

The new law bumped the standard child deduction up from $600 per child to $1,000.

Led by Ways and Means ranking member Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), Democrats tried to restore the provision while also allowing poor couples using the earned income tax exemption to benefit from the accelerated “marriage penalty” relief extended to wealthier couples in the latest tax bill.

Finally, Democrats say the Rangel bill would do so without adding to the deficit because it would close corporate loopholes by, for example, prohibiting tax shelters.

Democrats have seized on the issue ever since the CPBP revealed that Republican tax conferees dropped the provision late in negotiations.

“Congress is stealing from hard-working poor people to give a tax break to the rich,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said of the newly enacted law that reduces the tax rate on capital gains and dividend income.

“The American people were sold a false bill of goods by the administration and Congressional Republicans,” Rangel said. “President Bush likes to say, ‘Leave no child behind,’ but then happily signs a bill that denies promised child tax credit relief to millions of children.”

Some Senate Republicans are trying to fix the problem as well.

Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) is working on a bill that would restore the “refundability” provision — some of the lowest wage-earning families have no tax liability and therefore would get a refund from the Treasury.

Grassley’s bill would not include offsets.

Meanwhile, Sens. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) already introduced a plan to restore refundability and cover the $3.5 billion cost by targeting corporations that avoid paying federal taxes.

House Republicans are not currently drafting a similar proposal, and DeLay said he would not move any such bill unless it was attached to something else.

Of Grassley’s plan, he said: “If it’s part of some package that can get 60 votes in the Senate then I wouldn’t be opposed.”

DeLay derided those who say the most recent round of tax cuts do too little for the poor.

“Those who are complaining about this getting taken out in the negotiations are those that were against the tax cuts in the first place,” DeLay said.