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House Democrats cool to Senate plan

House leaders offered a decidedly cool response to the Senate’s plan to attach multi-faceted tax legislation to the massive Wall Street bailout package. 

The $149 billion tax legislation has already been rejected by the House, amid sharp criticism of Senate tactics by House Democratic leaders.

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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) both issued statements that pointedly omit any words of support for the plan. But they don’t state opposition, either.

The Senate has made a decision about how to proceed and what can pass that body.  The Senate will vote tomorrow night and the Congress will work its will,” Pelosi said in a statement.

When Pelosi states that the House “will work its will,” she often means that she intends to let House members vote without pressure from leadership. The Speaker’s statement also notes that House leaders have been talking to each other, and to White House officials. It makes no mention of House leaders talking to Senate leaders.

The House’s chief negotiator, Financial Services Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has been away from the Capitol since Monday evening in observance of Rosh Hashana.

Hoyer’s brief cautious statement says only that he is talking with fellow lawmakers about the Senate plan, without stating opposition or support.

“I am talking with my House colleagues about the Senate action and how to best proceed taking that into consideration in determining what action in the House will be most successful,” the statement reads.

The neutral, cautious words are a far cry from the joint letter Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidBiden fails to break GOP 'fever' Nevada governor signs law making state first presidential primary Infighting grips Nevada Democrats ahead of midterms MORE (D-Nev.) sent to President Bush earlier in the day. In it, the Democratic leaders say they “are committed to working with you and our Republican colleagues to enact a bipartisan bill without further delay.”

The tax legislation that the Senate attached includes a “patch” to prevent the alternative minimum tax from hitting 24 million households with a tax hike averaging $2,000, disaster relief, and extensions of popular tax credits for research and development and renewable energy.

The House and Senate have been arguing about the tax changes and whether they should be “paid for” with budget-balancing tax hikes almost since Democrats took over Congress.

The debate came to a head last week when the Senate bundled the tax provisions together and passed them 93-2.

House Democrats, particularly conservative Blue Dog deficit hawks, reacted furiously, because they want more of the package paid for.

Hoyer, who works closely with Blue Dogs, took up their cause and accused the House of “legislating by blunt force.”