Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Liberal Democrats Livid Over Tax-Cut Compromise; Sanders Threatens Filibuster

Patricia Murphy
Capitol Hill Bureau Chief

President Obama may have struck a compromise with congressional Republicans on tax cuts Monday, but he now has another group to worry about -- liberal Democrats in the House and Senate who are livid over the deal that they say betrays their most cherished values.

"How can we rationalize tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans when were facing this kind of a deficit?" Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.) said in an interview with NPR Monday night. "There is a group [of Democrats] that may walk. Let's say at some point, 'You've gone too far.' "

The tentative agreement that Obama announced Monday night would extend for two years the Bush tax cuts for all earners, while also continuing current tax rates on dividends and capital gains. In addition, the estate tax, which expired in 2009, would be temporarily set at 35 percent with a $5 million exemption, and extended unemployment benefits would continue for 13 months. Obama also said that negotiators had agreed to a one-year, 2-percentage point cut in the payroll tax for all workers.

Bernie Sanders

Of all of the details in the package, the most galling to liberals seemed to be the compromise to extend the tax cuts for the highest earners, which many Democrats fought when the cuts passed Congress in 2001 and 2003 and have railed against ever since. Democrats had also badly wanted to make permanent the tax cuts for middle- and lower-income workers, which was not included in the deal.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), one of the most liberal members of the Senate, threatened to filibuster the agreement in the upper chamber, calling it bad politics and bad policy.

"I think for a Democratic president, a Democratic House, and a Democratic Senate to be following the Bush economic philosophy of tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires is absolutely wrong public policy and absolutely wrong politically," Sanders said in an interview on MSNBC. "I've got to tell you, I will do whatever I can to see that 60 votes are not acquired to pass this piece of legislation."

On the House side, Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.) said that he, too, would do whatever he could to stop the compromise from passing in the lame duck session of Congress.

"This is a fight for the heart and soul of the Democratic Party and the nation," Conyers said after the president made his announcement. "I can tell you with certainty that legislative blackmail of this kind by the Republicans will be vehemently opposed by many if not most Democrats, progressives, and some Republicans who are concerned with the country's financial budget."

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) circulated a letter urging House Democrats to oppose the deal, calling it "fiscally irresponsible" and "grossly unfair."

"We support extending tax cuts in full to 98 percent of American taxpayers, as the President initially proposed," Welch wrote. "He should not back down. Nor should we."

The White House will begin the hard work of selling the deal to those disheartened Democrats Tuesday, when Vice President Joe Biden heads to Capitol Hill to convince his former colleagues that the president won the best compromise possible from emboldened Republicans to keep middle-income tax rates unchanged.

The convincing won't be easy, but as one senior White House official said in a call with reporters Monday night, "No one is going to be happy with all of this, but that's what compromise is."
Filed Under: The Capitolist

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