The AP reports that the House Democratic Caucus has voted to oppose President Barack Obama’s tax plan “in its current form,” despite stepped-up efforts by the White House, and Vice President Biden in particular, to court wayward Democrats.
While the caucus vote is non-binding, it surely signals the caucus’s displeasure with their president. It was a voice vote, so we don’t know how many Democrats are actually lined up against the deal, though the AP calls it “quite lopsided” and Rep. Shelley Berkley of Nevada tells reporters that “one person voted against it. That would be me.” But the question is whether it was a purely symbolic vote — so much face-saving. The fact, as has been pointed out here before, is that if the Republicans can line up nearly all of their caucus behind the deal — and Speaker Pelosi can be convinced not to exercise her prerogative to keep the bill off the floor all together — there won’t need to be anything near a majority of Democrats to get it passed. It could end up looking a lot like the second TARP vote.
A better indication of the strength of Democratic opposition to the deal is the letter of opposition to the deal from Rep. Peter Welch of Vermont, which had 54 Democratic signatories. But that leaves 200 Democratic votes up for grabs.
Pelosi has been playing her cards close to the vest, but her No.2, the moderate Steny Hoyer of Maryland, seems to be throwing his weight behind a deal, warning that “We’re going to have an increase in taxes on working Americans … if we continue to have gridlock.”
UPDATE: Thanks to a commenter for pointing out the White House is sufficiently worried about the House Democrats that it is considering alternative legislative strategies. Speaker Pelosi has already said she won’t touch the Obama-McConnell deal until the Senate acts on it (if at all), and now CNN’s Ed Henry reports that, in light of the caucus vote, an unnamed senior White House adviser is saying that the strategy now is to use a bill already passed by House as a vehicle for the new tax deal, and send it back to the house — something the adviser called “jam[ming] the House.”
This, ironically, would amount to giving House leadership a taste of their own medicine, since they used the procedural advantages associated with the “amend a Senate bill” trick to pass their middle-class-only tax bill without giving the Republicans an opportunity to offer an alternative.
Regardless, the ball is still in Pelosi’s court. House leadership has wide prerogatives on what that body does and does not consider. Just about the only real way to force a vote without the Speaker’s approval is a discharge petition, which would require 218 signatories and 30 days. So — oh, delicious irony! — the only thing standing between President Obama and what looks like it would be the most popular initiative of his term – is Nancy Pelosi!
UPDATE II: Here’s Speaker Pelosi’s non-committal statement post-caucus vote:
“We will continue discussions with the President and our Democratic and Republican colleagues in the days ahead to improve the proposal before it comes to the House floor for a vote,” Pelosi said.
“Democratic priorities remain clear: to provide a tax cut for working families, to create jobs and economic growth, to assist millions of our fellow Americans who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own, and to do this in a fiscally sound way.”