UPDATED 3:33 PM
In the middle of debate on the Obama-McConnell tax deal, House Democrats abruptly pulled the “rule” for the bill from the House floor, moving on to consideration of a purely technical bankruptcy bill.
The move probably (probably) signals that the Democrats are short on votes to pass the rule — and hence the bill — and are now scrambling to find them.
UPDATE: Okay. Here’s what happened. Recall that the Democrats are moving the tax compromise inside the hollowed out shell of a Senate aviation bill in order to deny Republicans the procedural opportunity to offer their own alternative. Yes, it’s as ridiculous as it sounds — Speaker-Designate memorably dubbed the strategy “chicken crap.”
But now the Democrats are being hoisted by their own petard. In order to proceed as they’d like, Democrats planned on holding two votes — one on the Pomeroy amendment, which would raise the estate tax from the compromise levels, and one on the overall Senate bill. But the way the rule is written, voting ‘yea’ on the Pomeroy estate tax hike would constitute a vote for the rest of Senate bill. That is, if the Democrats have 218 votes to pass Pomeroy (an open question), the rest of the deal would pass automatically. Only if Pomeroy comes up short would there be a separate vote on the overall bill. (Take a deep breath.)
But rank-and-file liberals want to be able to support the estate tax hike while going on record against things like the extension of current tax rates for top earners.
So in the middle of debate, Rep. Gene Taylor, lame-duck Democrat of Mississippi, made a privileged motion to adjourn, and Democratic leadership used the time bought by the vote on that motion to have a huge powwow on the House floor — Hoyer, the Congressional Black Caucus, the progressives, the House parliamentarian, all were in attendance — to figure out how to proceed. When the adjournment vote ended, the Democrats pulled the tax bill from the floor, a clear sign they are short on votes.
At this point, it remains unclear whether there is a fix.
UPDATE II: The
House Rules Committee Democratic caucus is meeting to construct a new rule that will allow liberals to offer more amendments to register their displeasure. But the actual passage of such amendments, as opposed to their symbolic consideration, would be a huge problem, as the Senate would almost certainly reject any changes.
UPDATE III: I previously reported, incorrectly, that the House Rules Committee was meeting. There is no official meeting. Instead, top Democrats are conferring on a way forward. But a top House aide tells me she witnessed Rules Committee Chair Louise Slaughter (D., N.Y.) describe the latest wrinkle as “bad, bad, bad, bad, bad.”