Parties dare each other as debate over extending tax cuts heats up

House Democrats will forge ahead with a highly partisan tax vote Thursday — just two days after President Obama called for a bipartisan deal on the issue.

The vote comes as administration officials and congressional representatives are negotiating a compromise on extending the Bush-era tax cuts, all of which are set to expire at the end of the year.

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Democrats argue the vote won’t affect the talks but House Republican Leader John Boehner (Ohio) said it does undercut conversations congressional leaders had with the president Tuesday.

“While we had a good meeting at the White House yesterday about how we’ll resolve the issue of stopping all the tax hikes, the House leaders are going to go down this path of gerrymandering the process so that members only have one option, and that’s to vote on only providing some tax relief to the American people. I think it’s wrong, it does undercut the conversation we had just yesterday,” he told reporters Wednesday evening.

Boehner told The Hill on Wednesday that his conference would stand unified against the Democratic legislation, which extends tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families making less than $250,000. Republicans want an across-the-board extension.

GOP lawmakers and aides said the decision to force Republicans to vote against middle-class tax cuts showed that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Obama are not on the same page.

But House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) insisted the vote would not undermine the tax talks between Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, Office of Management and Budget Director Jack Lew and congressional representatives.

“No, I don’t think it will undermine [the negotiations], nor is it intended to embarrass or to put Republicans in a difficult place,” Hoyer told reporters at his weekly briefing.
Hoyer said the vote was an effort to move forward on those tax rates that have bipartisan support.

“I don’t know of anybody in the House of Representatives who wants to see next year middle-income working Americans’ taxes increase. Not one,” the majority leader said. “As a result, we are going to give people the opportunity to make sure that doesn’t happen.”

Democrats have structured the vote under a closed rule, which would deny Republicans an opportunity to offer an alternative proposal or a motion to recommit that would extend all of the tax cuts.

Rep. David Dreier (Calif.), the ranking Republican on the Rules Committee, blasted the Democratic tactic, which Republicans say shows Pelosi is afraid of losing to a competing proposal.

“This is exactly what the American people voted against last month - bad policy put forward under a closed process,” Dreier said.

Boehner said he expects his Republican colleagues will vote in unison against the Democratic bill.

“I don’t think they’d get any,” Boehner said of the likelihood of Democrats picking up GOP votes.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced Wednesday that it opposes the Democratic legislation and will include the vote in its annual scorecard of lawmakers’ voting records. That scorecard is used to determine endorsements in an election year.

Obama said at the White House on Wednesday: “I am confident that nobody wants to see taxes on middle-class families go up starting Jan. 1, and so there’s going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican.”

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) told Obama and Pelosi at the Tuesday meeting that the entire Senate GOP conference would oppose an effort to extend lower tax rates for middle class but not wealthy families.

Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) said Pelosi’s decision to vote on the Democratic tax bill clashes with Obama’s effort to build bipartisan consensus.

“This is the result of the meeting yesterday to work together and find some conclusion? To put a bill on the floor that none of us will vote for?” Blunt said Wednesday.

Obama campaigned on a pledge to extend the Bush-era tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families making less than $250,000. But the president hasn’t insisted on Congress passing that plan in the wake of the midterm elections, which Obama called a “shellacking” of his party.

Geithner and Lew met Wednesday with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), Senate Republican Whip Jon Kyl (Ariz.), Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Dave Camp (Mich.), ranking Republican on the House Ways and Means Committee, to discuss a compromise on extending the tax cuts.

Most observers believe the result will be an extension of all the tax cuts for a two-year period.

Geithner called the preliminary talks “very civil” and in the same spirit of bipartisanship as the White House session earlier in the week. But he declined to reveal any details from the meeting, including the range of topics under discussion.

McConnell sent a letter to Reid this week signed by all 42 members of the Senate Republican Conference pledging to block all legislative items from the floor until Congress acted on the expiring Bush tax cuts and a plan to fund the federal government into the new year.

“With little time left in this congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities,” Senate Republicans wrote. “While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike.”

The conventional wisdom in recent days has been that Republicans would be willing to ratify the START nuclear arms reduction treaty if Obama agreed to the temporary extension of all of the Bush-era tax cuts.

But Kyl, who has emerged as the lead GOP negotiator with the administration on START, cast doubt on the possibility of approving the treaty in the lame-duck session.

Kyl said if negotiators don’t reach a deal on the Bush taxes within a week, “then you’re not going to have time to do START.”

The Senate must ratify it with a two-thirds vote of the chamber.

 Van Hollen said it would be “very difficult” to reach an agreement by the beginning of next week.

 Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), chairman of the Budget Committee, warned the tax talks could drag on well into December.

Conrad noted negotiators need to reach an agreement, put it into legislative language, review the language and then wait for the Congressional Budget Office to provide cost estimates.

“It takes time,” he said. “My experience is that things always take longer than you think. Always.”

Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper contributed to this article.