The Democrats’ Tax Gambit

by Daniel Foster

The Democrats’ tax vote strategy for the lame duck is starting to come into focus. A top GOP aide in the House tells me that the Democrats may schedule a vote extending only the middle-class Bush tax under a suspension of the rules.  This would mean 40 minutes of debate with no amendments, and a two-thirds majority required for passage. The Democrats won’t get to two-thirds, but it would allow them to force the Republicans to vote against extending the middle-class cuts (though, of course, the Republicans will argue they are voting against a tax hike simpliciter.)

More importantly, a suspension vote would take away the motion to recommit — the last line of defense for the minority party to stop a bill from passing. Republicans could move to recommit with instructions to amend that would extend all the current rates. If Democrats don’t think they can beat that vote, they’ll do everything in their procedural power to prevent it from ever happening.

Meanwhile, Rep. James Clyburn (D., S.C.), the new number three on the Democratic side, is saying that he isn’t sure it’s “essential” to extend any of the tax cuts, since allowing them to expire would bring deficit-reduction:

“I would hope House Democrats come down where I am and that is a middle income tax cut $250,000 or less,” Clyburn said. “I’m not going to budge. I think that we (Speaker Nancy Pelosi) are together on that. Now the House is a different animal than the Senate. So the Senate will do what it can do and we’ll look at whether we’ll have some negotiations or some kind of ping-pong activity. I don’t know that it’s essential or not. But I tell you what, some people would say that if that doesn’t get solved you’ve got a big deficit reduction taking place, which is also a good thing. So, there is a bright side to this no matter what you do.”

There are two possibilities here. One, Clyburn actually believes what he’s saying, in which case God help us — does anybody think allowing all the cuts to expire wouldn’t prolong our economic doldrums? Two, he’s bluffing in an attempt to make the threat represented by the suspension vote a credible one.

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