Democrats decline to take 'Plan B' bait

House Democrats largely declined to take the bait of Speaker John Boehner’s “Plan B” on Wednesday, forcing GOP leadership to rely heavily on their own conference to pass the measure.

Democrats said they expect a minimum number of defections on the plan to lock in tax rates for annual income up to $1 million, with Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) saying he expected “very few” yes votes from his side of the aisle. 

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), a Blue Dog who has backed GOP tax proposals this year, said he was a "no" this time around and that he knew of just one fellow Blue Dog who was a "yes." 

Boehner’s plan sets the sort of threshold for income tax rates that could have been attractive to Democrats representing wealthy suburban districts and fiscally conservative Blue Dogs.

But Democrats said that they didn’t want to undercut President Obama at a time when talks with Boehner (R-Ohio) had appeared to break down, and that “Plan B” was largely a political exercise.

At the same time, Democrats also said that, taken at face value, the GOP proposal fell short in a host of areas. Republican leaders are now adding a vote to replace automatic spending cuts in an attempt to appease their rank-and-file, a move which could further turn off Democrats. 

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“There’s some sense on our side that we need to remain steadfast to give the president more room to negotiate,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), a senior member of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee.  

“If our leadership can hold our side in line — which I think they’re going to — and resist the temptation in the lame-duck for a political vote, I think it makes the president’s position stronger.”

Rep. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) noted that Boehner’s plan would allow some tax breaks aimed at the middle class to expire, and doesn’t deal with the reimbursement rate for doctors treating Medicare.

Boehner’s plan, for instance, would not extend expansions of tax breaks for tuition assistance and lower-earning working families, though it does keep the Alternative Minimum Tax from reaching more middle-class families.

“Whether it’s $500,000 or $1 million, many members of my caucus — including myself — are fine with different levels of threshold,” Polis told The Hill. “It’s that the bill doesn’t deal with any of the issues were facing.”

“It’s horrible policy,” added Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat at Ways and Means. 

Even Democrats who say they have not yet decided how they will vote are not lacking for critiques of Boehner's plan.

Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who represents the single-richest district in Congress, told The Hill he was undecided on the measure — and then proceeded to rattle off a list of its shortcomings, including that it could blow up negotiations and weaken Boehner’s hand. 

"The markets may not like it. What have you left on the table unaddressed? Sequestration, payroll tax, unemployment insurance extension, the debt ceiling,” Connolly said. “The doc fix — to say nothing of a farm bill and postal reform and on and on.”

Despite all that, Connolly said the $1 million threshold is “an attractive level for me,” and that Democratic leadership had been reaching out to him to see if he would get on board. 

"My constituents are clearly concerned about the whole picture," he said. "Those are the marching orders I have from my constituents. It's not about a specific tax rate or a specific cut."

Other Democrats from wealthy districts said that Boehner’s plan wasn’t extensive enough to be even considered.

“It’s a very small amount of revenue,” said Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), one of the few Democrats who in recent weeks did not push to bring a bill to the floor that would extend rates for family income up to $250,000 a year.

“If you don’t resolve this, what’s ultimately going to happen is that the cuts are going to come from the very areas that Democrats are most concerned about,” Moran said. “That’s the irony.”

Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), who represents an affluent district outside New York City, was also a hard “no.”

"I spent the last several years calling for a big balanced deal,” Himes said. “This is literally too little, too late."

While many of his constituents might benefit from "Plan B," Himes said they can see beyond this single vote to the broader issues at play.

"Most of my constituents are looking for that big, balanced deal," he said. "Most of my constituents are smart [enough] to recognize that this is not a serious policy proposal, that this is tactical gamesmanship."

— Vicki Needham contributed to this report.