Democratic Leaders Downplay Divisions Over Tax Bill

Posted May 25, 2010 at 10:35am

Top House Democrats downplayed the significance of resistance within their own ranks to a nearly $200 billion package of tax breaks and social safety net provisions.

“I’m confident we will have the votes,” Assistant to the Speaker Chris Van Hollen told reporters Tuesday during a conference call touting the extenders package, which has encountered resistance from fiscally conservative Blue Dogs concerned that the measure would drive up the deficit.

The Maryland lawmaker, who also chairs the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, predicted that ultimately Blue Dogs will support the package, in part because of offsets that would close tax loopholes.

“The Blue Dogs have been very focused on ensuring fiscal responsibility, and we are with them in making sure that all those investments are paid for,” Van Hollen said. “We have addressed their concerns and will have strong support form the caucus.”

Specifically Van Hollen cast support for revenue-raising provisions designed to close loopholes that Democrats say encourage companies to ship jobs overseas as a “defining issue between Republicans and Democrats.”

But the legislation has encountered a series of delays, and neither Van Hollen nor Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin would commit Tuesday morning to a specific time for floor debate, other than they expected the measure to pass this week.

The Michigan Democrat signaled no willingness to alter the legislation, which reflects a carefully brokered agreement between Levin and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) “It’s up to this institution to step up to the plate, knowing that issues today aren’t easy,” Levin said. “The worst answer is to simply try to duck them.”

Levin and other supporters of the bill likely will make their case to reticent Democrats at a Tuesday Caucus meeting.

Action this week is key because several social safety net provisions — including unemployment insurance and health insurance subsidies for the unemployed — that the bill would continue are set to expire over the Memorial Day recess.

After the House acts, the measure will still have to pass through the Senate before it can go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

“Everyone’s working overtime to make sure we put this bill up and get it out before we meet this deadline,” Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) said.