House to vote this week on extending tax cuts for middle class

The House will hold a vote this week on extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts only for middle income Americans, a senior Democrat said Monday night.

“We will have that vote,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), assistant to the Speaker and the outgoing chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters after a leadership meeting. He confirmed that the vote would occur “this week.”

The move would set up a dramatic confrontation with Republicans who want at least a temporary extension of all the Bush tax rates, which are set to rise at the end of the year. And because the measure is unlikely to pass without amendment in the Senate, it would spark yet another battle within the Democratic caucus among lawmakers who have complained that the House too often take votes on items that stand little chance of becoming law.

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“Once again, we’re going to be in the position where we’re going to have a vote that’s not going to be replicated, not even taken up in the Senate. I have a lot of trouble with that,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), who is backing a temporary extension of the full slate of Bush tax cuts, including for income levels above the $250,000 annual threshold preferred by President Obama and Democratic leaders.

Still, Connolly said he would vote for a bill that extended only the middle income rates and suggested that many other Democrats who share his position would do the same. He challenged Republicans to offer a motion for a temporary across-the-board extension. “If they do, it will pass,” Connolly predicted.

Lawmakers said there was only a limited discussion of the tax cut issue at a caucus meeting Monday night. No final decisions on the timing or procedure for votes are expected until after congressional leaders meet with Obama at the White House on Tuesday, the chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), said.

Van Hollen told reporters that the House vote would likely be held under a traditional rule, meaning Republicans would have at least one chance to offer an amendment to expand the tax cuts beyond the $250,000 level. If Democratic leaders hold the vote under suspension rules, the GOP would have no such opportunity but a two-thirds majority would be required for approval.

GOP leaders have argued against any tax hikes during a fragile economic recovery, saying that an increase for the top brackets could stifle small businesses.

Democrats say a permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthy would explode an already enormous budget deficit.

“We want to make our position very clear, that we support tax relief for middle class Americans but do not want to add $700 billion to the deficit,” Van Hollen said. As for the bill’s chances in the upper chamber, he added: “You never know what’s going to happen in the Senate.”