By Russell Berman - 12/07/10 07:29 PM EST
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said Tuesday there was “no consensus or agreement reached by House leaders” on the deal Obama negotiated with the GOP, while Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) criticized GOP provisions in the agreement.
In a post on Twitter, Pelosi said the GOP provisions in the tax proposal would add to the deficit and help the rich without creating jobs. The GOP provisions “help only wealthiest 3%, don't create jobs & add tens of billions to deficit,” the Pelosi tweet said.
The Speaker expanded on her criticism of the Republican proposals in a statement that notably withheld any commitment of support.
Hoyer (D-Md.) at his weekly press conference reiterated Democratic opposition to extending tax cuts for the wealthy and said House leaders would be discussing the deal with the Democratic Caucus “over the next few days.”
“We'd like the Senate to move first on this issue,” Hoyer told reporters.
He said House Democratic leaders gave no commitment to the president. “We had a long meeting yesterday with the president, and there was at that point in time consensus or agreement reached by the House leadership,” he said. “There was a discussion. It took some time, but there was no agreement reached.”
The full caucus plans to meet Tuesday evening to consider the proposal. Hoyer stopped short of saying House Democrats would demand changes to the deal, but he warned: “It’s got to pass both houses.”
Earlier on Tuesday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), assistant to the Speaker, also said House Democrats had not signed off on the deal. He said he would meet with the caucus Tuesday to discuss it.
“I have some serious reservations about parts of this deal. I understand the importance of getting to an understanding, but there are certain elements that I think will cause a great concern to members of our caucus,” said Van Hollen, the House Democrats’ chief negotiator in the tax cut talks.
The agreement would extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts for two years and would extend unemployment benefits for 13 months. It would also cut the payroll tax by 2 percent through the end of next year.
Democrats wanted to extend the tax cuts for the middle class, but to raise tax rates on individuals with income above $200,000 and on families with income above $250,000 to the level they were at before the Bush tax cuts were enacted.
Hoyer was hesitant either to harshly criticize or to endorse the deal Obama struck, but as he addressed a packed conference room of reporters in his Capitol office, he displayed a large graphic showing a CBS News poll that found strong support for the Democratic position of extending tax cuts only for the middle class.
“These folks don’t believe this is an issue about chicken waste. They think it’s very serious,” Hoyer said in a shot at Speaker-designate John Boehner (R- Ohio), who denounced a House vote last week on the middle-class tax cuts as “chicken crap.”
Hoyer said he shared Van Hollen’s reservations of the Obama-GOP deal.
“The Republicans obviously have held and are holding middle income tax cuts hostage,” the majority leader said. “I think that’s inappropriate.”
Last week, Hoyer denounced the possibility of a deal linking an extension of tax cuts to an extension of unemployment insurance. He called unemployment benefits “a moral imperative” and said making them part of a political deal “is not what America ought to be about.”
Asked by The Hill if he stood by that statement, Hoyer replied: “Yes.”
Hoyer defended the House’s decision to hold what amounted to a symbolic vote on extending the middle-class tax cuts, saying the move “wasn’t specious at all.”
“That bill reflected the priorities of the Democratic Caucus,” he said. “That was our priority. We sent that bill to the Senate.”
The Maryland Democrat praised the payroll tax reduction but signaled out for criticism the proposal to set the estate tax at 35 percent for individuals bequeathing more than $5 million. The House passed a bill in 2009 setting the estate tax at 45 percent with an exemption at $3.5 million, but the Senate did not act on it.
“I’m not happy with that. It will cost substantial dollars,” Hoyer said, adding that the Senate’s failure to act on the House bill was “a blot on Congress.”
Michael O’Brien contributed reporting.
This story was posted at 11:42 a.m. and most recently updated at 2:29 p.m.