By Ian Swanson and Russell Berman - 09/24/10 09:54 PM EDT
Liberal Democratic House members unhappy with the Senate’s decision to put off a vote on extending tax cuts aren’t giving up the fight.
“The Senate is not going to decide my life,” Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) said Friday.
At her weekly press conference on Friday, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) did not rule out a House vote on the tax cuts before the election, even if the Senate doesn’t act. “We will retain the right to proceed as we choose,” Pelosi said.
She also offered a guarantee that Congress would extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class before they expire at the end of the year.
“America’s middle class will have a tax cut. It will be done in this Congress. There is no question about that,” the Speaker said.
But other rank-and-file Democrats said they believed the die had been cast and that there would not be a vote before the election.
“It’s clear that the Senate is shut down,” said Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.).
The question of whether to hold a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts before the election had divided Democratic leaders. The Hill reported earlier this week that Pelosi wanted to hold the vote, but that Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the head of the House Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, preferred that the vote be put off until after the election.
Many centrist Democrats want to extend all of the expiring tax cuts and oppose President Obama’s plan, which is supported by Pelosi, to allow tax cuts on families making more than $250,000 to expire.
Pascrell and Rep. Mike Capuano (D-Mass.) in a letter to Pelosi dated September 22, said it was “imperative” that the House hold a vote on extending the tax cuts before adjournment.
As one possible compromise, the suggested a five-year extension of tax rates on individuals making $200,000 or less and families making $250,000 or less, as well as a five-year extension of current rates on dividends and capital gains taxes. They said tax rates for those making more than $200,000 and $250,000 should be extended for one year.
Pelosi disputed the suggestion that punting on the tax-cut issue would hurt Democrats in the midterm elections. She said from Obama on down, Democrats have made their position clear.
“There isn’t a person in our caucus that isn’t for tax cuts for the middle class. It’s not about the election. It’s about the policy,” Pelosi said. “Members, with a vote or without a vote, can go home and talk about their commitment to that.”
Blumenauer agreed with Pelosi’s assessment that putting off the vote will not hurt Democrats, even if the left is upset. “I don’t think it makes that much difference,” he said.
The Senate’s decision to put off the vote provoked outrage from liberal commentators, however.
Keith Olbermann, the liberal host of MSNBC’s “Countdown” show, pointed out on Thursday that Democrats haven’t debated the expiring tax cuts on the House or Senate floors.
He called the decision a “cave in,” adding Democrats “are afraid of the topic. They are afraid of the fight. And the Democrats in the House are afraid to go first.”
Liberal New York Times columnist Paul Krugman indicated he was baffled by Democrats’ punt on taxes, writing, “I guess the Blue Dogs really want to be in the minority.”
Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg this week urged House Democrats to tackle tax cuts head on, presenting them with polling showing a majority of independent voters overwhelmingly support the president’s proposal. Other polls show a surprising number of Republicans want the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire.
Bob Cusack contributed to this story