The House Democratic leadership has now come out in opposition to the deal in its current form. They are demanding changes to the estate tax provisions:
“We believe the estate tax in the bill is a bridge too far,” the Speaker said. That provision shifts the balance in the agreement to Republicans and “ends any kind of symmetry between the two sides.”
Two other House Democratic leaders — Reps. George Miller (Calif.) and Chris Van Hollen (Md.) — denounced the inheritance provision.
“The estate tax is just gratuitous,” said Miller, a close Pelosi ally.
Van Hollen, the assistant to the Speaker and the House Democratic negotiator on taxes, noted the estate-tax provision would cost $68 billion over the next two years.
“I have very, very serious reservations with this deal,” he said. “I’m certainly not in a position to recommend this to my colleagues, I’ll tell you that.”
Van Hollen warned that the tax package is not final until the lower chamber endorses it.
“The House never signed off on this, so it’s certainly not a done deal,” Van Hollen told The Hill.
The chairwoman of the House Rules Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), also excoriated the agreement with Republicans.
“I don’t agree with this. I think the president’s wrong,” Slaughter said. “I’m sorry that we couldn’t have held on there for a little while until we all got to talk about it, but obviously he couldn’t.”
Here is a video of Rep. Van Hollen explaining the House Democratic position:
Part of the rationale for House Democrats drawing this line in the sand appears to be anger at not being involved in the negotiations at all:
Democratic leaders acknowledged they were not involved in the negotiations Obama conducted with Republicans over the weekend. Asked if the House was adequately included in the talks, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) replied: “I don’t think House Democrats think so.”
I certainly understand that we in the grassroots are not involved in the negotiations, but it’s pretty shocking that House Democrats, who at least for now still hold a wide majority, were not given a seat at the table. And they are angry about it. For example, take Appropriations Chair David Obey:
“Isn’t it wonderful to be in the city of misplaced priorities and ass backwards judgments,” House Appropriations Committee Chairman David Obey (D—Wis.) told POLITICO, vowing to vote against the tax package. “The city where it’s more important to provide another tax cut for millionaires than it is to provide for child care or Head Start or investments.”
More colorful language, this time from Representative Gary Ackerman of New York:
"I disagree that we didn't get anything," Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-N.Y.) deadpanned to his colleagues. "We got screwed."
The anger has resulted in House Democrats taking some hostages of their own, mainly on the estate tax, but also on other provisions:
New Democrats, the pro-business wing led by New York Rep. Joe Crowley, signaled openness to the bill, but only if bonus depreciation and research and development tax credits are included in the final product.
Taking hostages seems to be the only way to get a seat at the negotiating table, so why not join in the fun?
Overall, as with the Senate, it still seems unlikely, but not impossible, that the deal will be scuttled. However, it also seems unlikely that the deal will pass without being changed to meet at least some of the new Democratic demands.
None of those demands will be met if we just stand up and applaud the plan. As I said in the Senate state of play post earlier today, even if you support the deal, just standing up and clapping won’t do a damn thing to make this sucky deal even a little bit better. The only play we have right now is agitation in support of the Democratic members of Congress opposing the deal.
Whether you oppose the deal in any form, oppose it pending changes, or just support it, we have to strengthen the hand of the Democrats leading the opposition.