WASHINGTON -- While the public focus of the Great Tax Battle remains riveted on the U.S. Senate, top Democratic insiders are privately worried about the real lame-duck end game: a last-minute, potentially deal-breaking revolt by Democrats in the House.
That's why Vice-President Joe Biden and White House Interim Chief of Staff Pete Rouse invited House Democratic Leaders to the VP's mansion Saturday night for what turned out to be a two-hour meeting.
The existence of the meeting has been reported, but not the contents.
The topic, according to a source close to outgoing (but still in charge) House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, was how to cajole liberal Democrats in the lower chamber into accepting the results of the deal President Barack Obama and Senate Republicans are trying to cut.
As Fineman points out, the House has already passed a tax cut plan by a 234-188 margin. The Senate voted to support the House plan by a 53-36 margin, but thanks to the filibuster rule's 60-vote requirement, Republicans were able to block it.
But while Republicans may have succeeded in blocking a permanent extension of tax cuts for the middle-class, that doesn't mean they have the votes to continue Bush tax policy -- even if they reach a deal with the White House.
In the Senate, where Chuck Schumer has argued Democrats should consider refusing to support any deal, Republicans would need to pick up 18 Democratic votes to overcome a filibuster -- and that assumes every Republican is willing to support the deal. Given that all but five Democrats voted to support the House-passed plan, the GOP and the White House would need to flip 13 Democrats.
Meanwhile, in the House, there were 188 votes against a permanent extension of tax cuts for just the middle-class. Even if Republicans and the White House held onto all 188 votes and won back the three Republicans who voted for the middle-class tax cuts and the eight who didn't vote, they'd still need to get 19 Democrats to flip sides. Keep in mind that 20 Democrats were among the 188 who voted against the tax cuts -- Republicans and the White House would need 19 more Democrats to get a deal done.
The bottom-line is this: it's a mistake to assume that the votes are there to continue Bush tax policy. We know that there's majority support for a permanent extension of middle-class tax cuts, but any deal that forces Democrats to abandon that permanent extension AND agree to continue Bush tax cuts for the wealthy is going to be a very, very tough sell. If enough Democrats stand their ground, it will be an impossible one.