Vulnerable House members face tough votes on competing tax bills

Vulnerable House members face tough votes on competing tax bills

Vulnerable House lawmakers will face tough decisions next week when two competing tax bills come to the floor, and some Democrats are indicating they will back a Republican plan to extend all rates for another year.

Democratic leaders are expected to offer the proposal that passed the Senate on Wednesday, which extends the George W. Bush-era tax rates only for family income up to $250,000, as an alternative to the GOP measure.

Two House Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson (Minn.) and Joe DonnellyJoseph (Joe) Simon DonnellyGOP sees fresh opening with Dems’ single payer embrace Trump steps up courtship of Dems Trump having dinner with Schumer, Pelosi on Wednesday MORE (Ind.) — said they would vote with Republicans to extend all the tax rates through 2013. A third, Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), said he was leaning toward supporting a full extension as well.

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Peterson, the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, told The Hill that he would likely vote for both plans even though his preference would be to extend all Bush-era rates and then do tax reform in 2013.

“I just am in the camp that we shouldn’t be raising taxes right now, with the economy where it is,” Peterson said. “I don’t want to get into the fight between the groups.”

In 2001, Peterson was one of 28 Democrats to vote to originally lower income tax rates to their current levels.

Donnelly is in a tough race for Senate in Indiana. “Given our continued economic challenges, now is the time to keep tax rates low,” he said in a statement. “The last thing our economy can afford is more uncertainty as the fiscal cliff approaches.”

Several other Democrats told The Hill they were still weighing whether to support the GOP bill, including Reps. Gerry ConnollyGerry ConnollyDem lawmaker warns of 'political and moral limitations’ to working with Trump Dems ready to deal with Trump — but it's complicated GAO: Fewer than one in four agencies will meet data center consolidation goals MORE (Va.), Ron BarberRonald (Ron) Sylvester BarberPrinciples and actions mean more than Jeff Flake’s words Giffords to lawmakers avoiding town halls: 'Have some courage' Ten House seats Dems hope Trump will tilt MORE (Ariz.) and Shelly Berkley (Nev.), a Senate candidate.

Both parties are targeting vulnerable members over the votes, and Republican aides note that there are 89 House Democrats still serving who backed the December 2010 deal that fully extended the Bush tax rates for two years.

Democrats may have an easier time limiting defections on the Senate proposal. While Republicans have labeled the bill a “small business tax hike,” Democrats have argued that Congress should simply approve a policy that has broad bipartisan support — preventing a tax hike on the middle class.

“We should pass that now, and save the argument over whether we increase taxes on the richest Americans for another day,” said Rep. Chris MurphyChristopher (Chris) Scott MurphySenate Dem: Graham-Cassidy is an 'intellectual and moral garbage truck fire' Dems call for action against Cassidy-Graham ObamaCare repeal Murphy fires back at Trump on filibuster MORE (D), a Senate candidate in Connecticut.

Connolly said of the Democratic proposal: “That vote in and of itself causes me no problem at all. The question is, what do I do about the other vote?”

Several Democrats said they wanted to see how the Republican bill treats other provisions in the tax code, such as the estate tax.

Like Senate Republicans, the House GOP is proposing to extend the current estate tax parameters — 35 percent top rate and an indexed $5 million exemption — for another year.

Congressional Democrats are generally more divided on the issue, with proposals to both extend current levels and return to less generous 2009 ones.

Another point of contention for Democrats is the threshold at which taxes would rise. While President Obama and Senate Democrats have stuck to the $250,000 line, Connolly and other House Democrats believe it should be set at $1 million — a number that both Sen. Chuck SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerSenate Dems hold floor talk-a-thon against latest ObamaCare repeal bill This week: Senate wrapping up defense bill after amendment fight Cuomo warns Dems against cutting DACA deal with Trump MORE (D-N.Y.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) have supported in the past.

Rep. Sandy Levin (D-Mich.), the ranking member on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, said House Democrats would throw their full weight behind the Senate bill, and tossed aside the idea that defections could dilute the Democratic message.

Levin noted that, against some predictions, Senate Democrats only lost two votes from the caucus for their tax bill. Sens. Joseph Lieberman (Conn.), an Independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Jim Webb (Va.), who is retiring, voted with Republicans.

“What was surprising to some was that the Democrats held together. We’re going to hold together,” the Michigan Democrat said. “Losing two people only accentuates our basic unity.”

Republicans expect to have nearly unanimous support for their proposal. Rep. Frank WolfFrank WolfTrump, global religious freedom needs US ambassador to lead Bottom Line 10 most expensive House races MORE (R-Va.), a critic of anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, told The Hill he would back the GOP plan. Another frequent defector, Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C.), said he was “open to both” plans.

One Republican who might vote against the party is Rep. Steve LaTourette (Ohio), a close ally of Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerSpeculation mounts, but Ryan’s job seen as safe Boehner warns Trump: Don't pull out of Korea-US trade deal GOP Rep: Ryan wasting taxpayers dollars by blocking war authorization debate MORE (R-Ohio) who led the push to pass a modified Simpson-Bowles deficit plan as a budget substitute earlier this year. The Simpson-Bowles plan assumed the expiration of the Bush tax rates for the wealthy, and LaTourette has said he would oppose further tax cuts that add to the deficit.

The budget modeled on the Simpson-Bowles plan garnered only 38 votes in the House, but its treatment of the tax rates for high earners could provide cover for Blue Dog Democrats — who often vote against their party — to oppose the GOP plan.

At the same time, Sen. Mark PryorMark PryorMedicaid rollback looms for GOP senators in 2020 Cotton pitches anti-Democrat message to SC delegation Ex-Sen. Kay Hagan joins lobby firm MORE (D-Ark.), cited the deficit plan in explaining his decision to support both the Democratic and Republican tax plans on Wednesday.

“I don’t believe the American people should be punished through higher taxes because Republicans and Democrats can’t work out a sensible solution on tax reform,” he said. “Both measures before the Senate extend tax cuts to middle class families and patch the alternative minimum tax. We should extend these cuts as a bridge to comprehensive tax reform.”