House Dems return to division over taxes

House Democratic lawmakers emerged from a closed-door caucus meeting on Tuesday night without a consensus on tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year.

Lawmakers listened to a presentation from Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg and began discussions on what to do about the Bush tax cuts, which have become a dominant campaign issue.

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Several veteran Democrats said they wanted to extend the tax cuts for the middle class before the November election. The move could give candidates a vote to tout on the campaign trail while seizing on a weekend comment by GOP leader Rep. John Boehner (Ohio), who signaled he would support a bill to extend the middle class tax rates even if it did not also extend tax cuts for the wealthy.

One senior Democratic lawmaker was overheard exclaiming to a colleague: “John Boehner gave us a gift. He gave us a gift!”

Party leaders said no decisions were made on how to deal with the tax cuts. House Democrats had initially wanted the Senate to act first, but Boehner’s comment caused them to reconsider.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, said she’d like the House to vote first.

“If you asked me what I’d like to do, I’d like to do it,” she said.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said party leaders were “in listening mode.”

He said that while “there may well be a vote” on the tax cuts in the House, ultimately it would depend on what could get through the Senate. “We’re talking about getting stuff done,” Van Hollen said when asked why Democrats would not simply call a vote based on Boehner’s comments.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said there “wasn't a broad consensus” on the tax cut issue.

Several Blue Dog Democrats have said they want to extend all the Bush tax cuts, including those for the wealthy. Lawmakers are also considering a one or two-year extension for the highest rates.