Pelosi won't rule out extending all tax cuts

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Thursday refused to definitively rule out a temporary extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts.

When asked if there was any chance the tax breaks for the wealthy would be extended, even temporarily, the Speaker didn’t give a direct answer.

“The only thing I can tell you is tax cuts for the middle class will be extended this Congress,” Pelosi said at her weekly press conference.

The Speaker also would not say whether the House would vote before the November elections on an extension of the Bush tax rates that are set to expire at the end of the year. 

Asked directly if voters deserve a vote on the issue before they head to the polls, Pelosi replied: “What I believe the American people deserve is a tax cut for the middle class, and without getting into procedure and timing and process, what we’re going to do is to say, at the end of the day, the extension of the Obama middle-income tax cuts will take place.”

Echoing President Obama, Pelosi said she was personally opposed to a one- or two-year extension of tax cuts on families earning more than $250,000 per year and individuals making more than $200,000, a plan that more than two dozen members of the House Democratic caucus have advocated. She argued at length for allowing those tax cuts on the top brackets to expire, but could not say whether she had the votes to do so. 

Meanwhile, House Republican leader John Boehner (Ohio) fired off a statement reiterating his call for Congress to vote on extending all the tax cuts before the election. Boehner had earlier said he would be willing to vote only extending only the middle-class rates if that was the only option he was given. 

Boehner said he was “encouraged” that Pelosi might be opening the door to an extension.

“If we’re serious about taking action to help our economy get back to creating jobs, Democrats and Republicans must come together and pass legislation this month that makes significant cuts in spending and stops President Obama’s tax hike on small businesses,” the GOP leader said.

In an indication of how paramount the tax cut question has become in the run-up to the midterm elections, Pelosi’s office put out a clarifying statement hours after her press conference. The statement, from spokesman Nadeam Elshami, emphasized Pelosi’s opposition to any extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy. It did not address the question of whether a temporary extension of those tax rates might ultimately be necessary because of pressure from centrist and conservative House Democrats.

“The Speaker has made her position abundantly clear and has repeatedly said that she supports President Obama’s middle-class tax cuts,” Elshami said in the statement. “The Speaker is opposed to extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent because they add hundreds of billions to the deficit and do not create jobs. As the Speaker said during her news conference today when asked whether she’s open to an extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy, she responded: ‘not for the wealthy, no.’” 

The statement from the Speaker’s office omitted the end of Pelosi’s quote on the tax cuts, where she added: “That’s my position, but again, we listen to our members.”

Pelosi accused Republicans of holding the middle-class cuts “hostage” while they push for extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

Democrats are now debating whether to hold a vote on extending only the middle-class tax cuts before the election, as many liberals want, or whether to wait until a lame-duck session of Congress to deal with the issue. Thirty-one House Democrats, many in tight reelection races, have signed a letter to Pelosi calling for a temporary extension of all the tax cuts, including those for the top income brackets.

House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) told The Hill on Thursday that the mood in the Democratic caucus is “very strong” for holding a vote on the middle-income rates before the election.

“There’s a very positive mood. People would like to vote on it before the election,” Clyburn said. “The mood is very strong.”

“Now, a lot of people who signed that letter, they aren’t against the tax cuts we’ve got, they’re just saying it would good to extend the others as well,” he added. “If we bring up this bill, I don’t see anybody voting against it; I don’t see anybody holding that hostage because we don’t give millionaires and billionaires a tax cut.”

Clyburn said the while he did not set the House agenda, “there’s no opposition to voting on that before we go.”

Other Democratic leaders have said the House is waiting to see what action the Senate will take on the tax cuts and has not determined whether it is willing to vote first on the issue. House Democrats have complained for months about having to take votes on controversial items only to see legislation they passed languish in the upper chamber.

This story was updated at 4:54 p.m.