After he brokered a deal with congressional Republicans to extend
Bush-era tax cuts and establish a sweeping estate-tax exemption in
return for maintaining unemployment benefits, President Obama
essentially told congressional Democrats: Take it or leave it.
House Democrats have decided to leave it.
In a stunning setback for the president's attempt to cobble together a
compromise with Senate Republicans leaders, members of the House Democratic Caucus voted Thursday morning to reject the agreement.
With strong support from her members, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi now says she will fight for a better deal.
The caucus vote took place in a closed meeting Thursday, after
several days of lobbying by the White House. While some media reports
has suggested that Democrats were warming to the plan, Oregon
Congressman Peter DeFazio, a prime mover in the fight to block the deal, says the opposite appears to be the case.
DeFazio says the caucus was "virtually unanimous" in its support of
his resolution declaring that Democrats oppose floor action on the deal
as it is currently organized.
"We have tremendous concerns about what was given away by the White
House to Mitch McConnell and the Senate," announced DeFazio, following
the vote. "We have given our leadership license to force the Senate and
the White House back to the table to get a better deal for the American
The vote was non-binding. But it gives Pelosi ammunition as she argues with the White House for a reworking of the agreement-perhaps with an eye toward dropping the estate-tax exemption that is particularly unpopular with House Democrats.
Pelosi's spokesman, Brendan Daly, declared immediately after the caucus vote that: "this means we will not bring this [agreement] to the floor as is. It has to be changed."
Minutes later, the Speaker office issued a statement from Pelosi that
said: "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. 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."
The caucus message is clear.
DeFazio, who with Washington Democrat Jim McDermott, collected 55
signatures from House Democrats on a petition demanding the vote, said
of President Obama: "He basically said, 'Take it or leave it.' "We left
For background on the organizing that led up to the caucus vote, check out this post: Dozens of House Dems Urge Pelosi to Block Tax Deal; Progressive Groups Ramp Up Pressure.