House Democrats gelling around Obama's $250K threshold for tax cuts

House Democrats are gelling around President Obama's plan to set a $250,000 threshold on incomes subject to a tax hike next year.

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While some voices influential to the "fiscal cliff" debate — notably venture capitalist and Obama backer Warren Buffett — support the Democrats' proposal to hike taxes on the wealthiest Americans in 2013, they also want to see a higher income threshold, perhaps $500,000 per family.

But Rep. John Larson (Conn.), who heads the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday that his troops are backing Obama's call for the lower $250,000 figure.

"The caucus is behind the president and the leader with respect to that number," Larson said following a caucus meeting in the Capitol with top White House economic adviser Gene Sperling. "We have people in our caucus who think, in fact, that it could be lower ... and we have people that believe, you know, that it could be higher. But the caucus, time after time, because we've had this discussion, is there [at $250,000]."

Larson's "leader" reference was to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who said earlier this month that, because Obama had made the $250,000 threshold central to his reelection message, the Democrats now have a good deal of leverage to keep that figure in place as the parties wrestle for advantage in negotiations over the looming expiration of the Bush-era tax rates and the sequestration cuts.

"The president campaigned on the [$250,000], the American people support that," Pelosi said two weeks ago.

Pelosi emphasized that she remains "agnostic" about certain specifics surrounding the tax debate, but said the $250,000 figure "is where a good deal of leverage is in these negotiations."

The debate over how — or whether — to extend the Bush tax rates has been ongoing for two years. The Republicans won the first round in 2010, securing the lower rates for all incomes through 2012. But Obama has vowed to let them expire in 2013 for families earning more than $250,000 – a push only fueled by his resounding reelection victory on Nov. 6.

“This was a central question during the election,” Obama said on Nov. 9. “It was debated over and over again. And on Tuesday night, we found out that the majority of Americans agree with my approach.”

Republicans have pushed back hard, saying they're open to new tax revenues, but not higher marginal rates. By keeping Republicans in control of the House, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said on election night that voters "made clear that there is no mandate for raising tax rates.”

Larson, for his part, said the Democrats aren't quite married to the $250,000 figure, but suggested they won't agree to raise it unless the revenue difference is made up elsewhere in the budget.

"Could there be compromise on that number? Well, I think there's always room for compromise as things are presented on the table," Larson said. "You get somebody like Buffett out there making a suggestion, you know, if that helps the Republicans talk about revenue in a real way, then I'm sure that people will listen."

But, Larson was quick to add, "the president has been very clear that he'll veto anything above 250."

The Democrats' support is seen as crucial to the success of a fiscal cliff deal, as Boehner is not expected to have enough House GOP support to pass a package capable of clearing the Senate and the White House — particularly if it includes an increase in tax hikes.

Speaking for himself, Larson said he also supports Obama's $250,000 threshold. But the Connecticut Democrat also left himself some wiggle room on the figure.

"You'll have to look at it in the context of what a deal is," he said.