Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday a House vote on extending only middle-class income tax cuts would not undermine bipartisan negotiations on a broader compromise for the most contentious issue of the lame-duck congressional session.
Hoyer confirmed he would schedule a Thursday vote on permanently extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for American families earning as much as $250,000 a year. The vote will not address the income tax rates for the highest earners, which Republicans and some Democrats also want extended. All of those tax cuts are set to expire at the end of the year.
The Democratic move comes as negotiators for the House, Senate and White House began bipartisan talks on resolving a months-long impasse over the issue. Many in Washington believe those discussions will ultimately result in a temporary extension for all the current tax rates.
“No, I don’t think it will undermine [the negotiations], nor is it intended to embarrass or to put Republicans in a difficult place,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly briefing.
While acknowledging the partisan dispute over tax cuts for the wealthy, Hoyer insisted the vote was an effort to move forward on an issue where both parties agree.
“I don’t know of anybody in the House of Representatives who wants to see next year middle-income working Americans’ taxes increase. Not one,” the majority leader said. “As a result, we are going to give people the opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
Republican leaders have vowed to push for a permanent extension of the entire slate of Bush tax cuts, arguing against any tax hikes in the midst of a halting economic recovery. Democrats say an extension of tax cuts for the wealthy could add $700 billion to the budget deficit.
Hoyer would not say whether Democrats would allow the GOP an opportunity to amend the bill to extend, at least temporarily, tax rates for the top income brackets. That push could draw significant Democratic support, as more than 30 members of the House Democratic caucus have called for an across-the-board extension.
“We don’t want to muddle our message, and we think we won’t muddle our message,” Hoyer said.
Republicans immediately characterized the Democratic plan to vote on only the middle-income rates as a tax hike on “small business people and investors.”
“The legislation that Leader Hoyer announced he’d bring before the House would raise taxes on many small business people and families, and shows a clear disconnect from the economic reality facing our country,” House GOP whip Rep. Eric Cantor (Va.) said. “It's a non-starter and is completely contrary to the discussion that we had with the president yesterday at the White House. This is nothing more than political chicanery and undermines the president's ongoing discussions and efforts on tax rates.”
Cantor, who will become majority leader in January, called on Democrats to allow a vote on legislation “that would prevent tax increases for every American.”
Some Democrats have also voiced concerns about the House voting on yet another bill that appears doomed in the Senate, where there is more support for a temporary extension of the top income tax rates. But Hoyer said the Thursday vote would allow members to put their support for middle-class tax cuts on the record.
This story was updated at 1:37 p.m.