By Russell Berman - 09/23/10 12:49 AM EDT
A split has opened between Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) over whether to hold a vote before the midterm elections on extending the George W. Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class.
In closed-door leadership meetings this week, Pelosi has pushed for the House to act on the middle-income tax cuts before lawmakers bolt Washington for the campaign trail, while Hoyer wants the House to wait for the Senate to act first, according to Democratic aides.
Democrats face the real possibility of losing the House in November, which could shake up the party’s leadership and shift roles for Hoyer and Pelosi, who have worked together closely during the four years the Democrats have led the lower chamber since 2006. Hoyer has long been a voice for centrist Democrats, while Pelosi’s base of support is with the party’s liberal wing.
There is speculation that Hoyer could become minority leader if Republicans win back the House. It is unclear whether Pelosi would stay on as a leader if Democrats lose their majority.
Both Pelosi and Hoyer have voiced confidence in recent weeks that Democrats will retain their majority this fall.
The two leaders agree on the substance of the tax debate. Both oppose extending the tax cuts for Americans earning more than $250,000 a year but want to make the middle-class cuts permanent.
Their disagreement centers on the political merits of holding a House vote before the election if the Senate does not act first, aides said. Senate leaders have not decided whether to hold a vote before lawmakers leave town, and House Democrats have long been wary of taking votes that may be shelved in the upper chamber.
House aides emphasized that the situation remains fluid. Any vote would most likely occur next week, which will likely be the last week the House is in session before the election.
A spokesman for the Speaker, Nadeam Elshami, said no decisions had been made and reiterated Pelosi’s pledge to extend the tax cuts for the middle class.
Pressed on whether the House should vote on it even if the Senate did not, Hoyer replied: “We want to see what the Senate can get done. Let me reiterate that and leave it at that.”
Pelosi has not said publicly whether she wants to hold a vote before or after the election. At a press conference last week, she pledged only that the tax cuts for the middle class ultimately would be extended.
“What I believe the American people deserve is a tax cut for the middle class, and without getting into procedure and timing and process, what we’re going to do is to say, at the end of the day, the extension of the Obama middle-income tax cuts will take place,” she said.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (Md.), assistant to the Speaker and chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, has sided with many freshman and sophomore “Frontline” Democrats who want the vote pushed until after the election, the aide said. He has also floated the idea of a temporary one-year extension of all Bush tax cuts, including those for the top income brackets. Meanwhile, the House majority whip, Rep. James Clyburn (D-S.C.), is among those pushing for a pre-election vote.
Clyburn told The Hill late last week that the inclination in the Democratic Caucus was “very strong” to hold the vote before the elections. “There’s a very positive mood. People would like to vote on it before the election,” Clyburn said. “The mood is very strong.”
Republicans have vowed to push for an extension of all the tax cuts, although House GOP Leader John Boehner (Ohio) has said that if an extension of the middle-class rates was the only option on the floor, he would support it.
When Democrats won their majority in 2006, Pelosi backed then-Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.) as majority leader against Hoyer. For the past four years, however, Hoyer has been a loyal lieutenant to Pelosi, and there have been few signs of disagreement between the two.