House Democrats file petition to force vote on middle class tax rates

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House Democrats on Tuesday filed a discharge petition that would force the House to vote on the Senate's bill to extend the Bush-era tax levels for the middle class, but allow rates to rise for the wealthy.

Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn.) filed the petition at noon, and it will need 218 signatures to take it out of committee and bring it to the House floor for a vote. Democrats won't reach that majority without help from a few dozen Republicans; despite this hurdle, several Democrats called on members of both parties to support it in order to avoid a tax hike on the middle class.


"Today, let's show the American people the politics of the possible," Walz said. "Let's focus on what we agree on, not what disagree on. Let's find common ground."

The earliest a vote could be held woudl be on Christmas Eve, but House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said that wouldn't deter Democrats. 

He said his party was “absolutely” prepared to remain in Washington on Christmas Eve for the vote. Rules on discharge petitions mean the earliest a vote could be held on the measure would be the fourth Monday of December.

"It's absolutely real," Hoyer said, rejecting the notion that the discharge petition is simply a political stunt. "I think we've been here [before] on the 24th of December."

Democrats said a vote to avoid a middle-class tax hike is needed to avoid the most dire part of the cliff, and blamed Republicans for refusing to take this step. Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the November election showed there is support for President Obama's position that taxes should go up on people earning $250,000 a year or more, and said the GOP is delaying progress by seeking lower rates for these wealthy people.

"That's not negotiating, that's hostage taking," Pelosi said on the floor.

"This is the heart of the matter that is holding us here," Pelosi added. "This is about the $250,000 line that the president said in the campaign that he would honor."

"The discharge petition frames the issue immediately before us," Ways and Means Committee ranking member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said. "Will Republicans take America over the cliff, and the middle-class tax cuts with them, in order to protect tax breaks for the very wealthy? And will they take the economy with them over the cliff?"

The Democratic petition was filed just one day after House Republicans made an offer to Obama that calls for a $2.2 trillion reduction in the deficit, and raising $800 billion by ending tax deductions for the wealthy. The GOP plan was a counteroffer to the one made by Obama, which called for $1.6 trillion in tax increases and $400 billion in cuts to entitlement programs, plus a new $50 billion stimulus plan.