Biden to address fuming House Dem caucus on tax cuts

Vice President Biden will address a fuming House Democratic caucus on Wednesday, a day after lawmakers roundly panned a tax cut deal the White House negotiated with Republicans.

At a caucus meeting Tuesday night, more than a dozen House Democrats stood up to criticize President Obama’s tax proposal, complaining that the administration caved too quickly on party priorities while shutting out Democratic lawmakers, sources in the room said. Of the 15 to 20 Democrats who spoke at the meeting, only a couple voiced support for the proposal, according to a Democrat in the room.

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“I don’t think the president should count on Democratic votes to get this deal passed,” Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-N.Y.) said after leaving the meeting. He added Obama “went from zero to compromise in 3.5 seconds.”

“We got rolled,” one Democratic congressman told The Hill in describing the sentiment within the House caucus. One lawmaker, whom Democrats would not name, drew applause when he urged his colleagues to vote down the Obama-GOP plan and force the new Republican majority to confront the expiring George W. Bush-era tax cuts.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders presented the president’s proposal to the party rank-and-file while making clear they were not endorsing it. The plan calls for a two-year extension of the entire slate of Bush tax cuts, along with a 2 percent reduction in the employee payroll tax, among other items.

The chief sticking point for House Democrats, aside from a temporary extension of tax cuts for the wealthy, was the proposed adoption of a GOP-favored plan to set the estate tax at 35 percent for individuals worth more than $5 million. The House passed a bill last year that would set the inheritance tax at 45 percent with an exemption starting at $3.5 million, and Democrats characterized the administration proposal as a needless giveaway to the GOP.

With Republicans expected to support the plan, however, it was not clear how much leverage House Democrats would have. “That’s the question,” said Rep. Allyson Schwartz (D-Pa.), vice chairwoman of the House Budget Committee.

For Biden, it will be his second trip to Capitol Hill in as many days. He addressed his former colleagues in the Senate on Tuesday, and House Democrats were told he would be returning to meet with them on Wednesday.

“I think when the vice president comes here tomorrow, we’ll be able to sense where the consensus is, and I think people are holding off right now,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said.

Pelosi made a brief statement after the meeting, repeating her comments earlier in the day that there's "unease" among Democrats toward the compromise. She said the various proposals should be judged based on their effects on jobs and the deficit. The White House-GOP compromise, she said, fails both tests. 

The Speaker didn’t respond when asked if she would bring the proposal up for a vote or seek to change it in any way.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) also declined to comment after the gathering.

"We're still talking," Hoyer said.

Some liberal Democrats are already threatening to oppose the bill unless some of the benefits for the wealthiest Americans are removed. 

Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D-N.Y.) questioned the morality of extending additional benefits to a relatively small number of wealthy families at a time when the income gap is more pronounced than it has been since the 1920s.

"This is a very, very big mistake," Hinchey said, adding that he'll vote against the measure in its current form.

Rep. Lynn Woolsey (D-Calif.) also said she'll oppose the current bill.

A number of Democrats questioned whether the White House fought hard enough to extend only the middle-class tax cuts — a strategy approved by the House last week but shot down by the Senate on Saturday.

Still, other lawmakers indicated that House Democrats might be forced, once again, to swallow legislation they don't support. 

"If we can refine it and make it better, great," said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.). "But this is probably the best we're going to get.