2:55pm

Tue December 14, 2010
Politics

Despite Protests, House Expected To Pass Tax Deal

U.S. House members heading back to Washington on Tuesday prepared to take up the tax cut deal that has something for just about every politico to love -- and hate.

Tea Party activists have been excoriating Republicans for signing on to an $800 billion-plus deal -- negotiated by President Obama and GOP leaders --- that preserves Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans, but isn't paid for.

And liberals have been kicking the president for backtracking on his campaign promise to roll back the Bush tax cuts for high-earning Americans, and for agreeing to a generous exemption from the estate tax for the wealthy.

The package also includes an extension of both unemployment benefits and tax breaks for ethanol and other alternative energy sources.

But despite all the caterwauling about the pact, it is expected to pass in the Senate Tuesday or Wednesday. And House members on both sides of the aisle are predicting that their chamber will also endorse the deal.

"I'd be surprised if the vote is even close," Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican, said Tuesday. "There are some of us opposed, but not enough."

In advance of a scheduled Tuesday afternoon House leadership meeting, top aides to Democratic leaders were suggesting that a vote on the package could take place as early as Wednesday.

House Democrats, who will lose their majority when the new Congress convenes in January, have also scheduled a caucus later Tuesday. They are expected to hash out an agreement to placate members who vehemently oppose the deal, particularly the provision that would reinstate the estate tax at a lower rate than Democrats had wanted.

The Obama-GOP deal would set the rate at 35 percent for estate values that exceed $5 million for individuals. The House last year by a 225-220 vote passed a stand-alone estate tax bill that set the rate at 45 percent for estate values that exceed $3.5 million.

In one likely scenario, the leadership would allow one amendment to the Senate-endorsed bill to address anger over the estate tax provision. The amendment would likely substitute the House-passed estate tax rate levels for the more generous Senate language.

Republican leaders in the Senate have said that any change to the bill would kill it. But even if the House passes an estate tax amendment, it would likely be stripped out by the Senate in the bill sent back to the lower chamber for approval.

Supporters of the compromise say they are confident that the Senate, which in a test vote Monday endorsed the Obama-GOP package 83-15, would handily dispatch any House amendment that would jeopardize the measure.

A 'Huge Win' For Obama?

For fiscal conservatives like Flake, the inevitability of the measure -- what politician wants to be responsible for the expiration of across-the-board tax breaks? -- sends the wrong message to voters.

Flake has said that he, for example, wanted to see spending cuts to offset the extension of unemployment benefits, and would, if given the opportunity, propose an amendment to stop the proposed extension of ethanol subsidies.

"We're making no tough choices here -- none," he said. "I think people are sick and tired of us saying that we'll get around to cutting and we never do."

His sentiments were echoed by Andrew Ian Dodge, coordinator of the Maine Tea Party Patriots -- and someone who has been mentioned as a potential challenger to Maine GOP Sen. Olympia Snowe in 2012.

"This is the first big test for Republicans, and it shows that Republicans in the Senate are tone deaf to the Tea Party," he said. "There should just be one bill for one thing -- keeping the Bush tax cuts, not sticking all this extraneous stuff on it."

"The only person who is going to benefit from passing this is Obama," Dodge says, "because it's a huge win."

Survey data released Tuesday by Public Policy Polling confirmed that the "Democratic base is furious" over the tax deal, says Tom Jensen, the organization's director. And the Republican base is also not pleased with the compromise.

But, for Obama, the survey found, the tax cut package is a "positive game changer" that has improved his standing with independents in key states like Wisconsin and Ohio.

Though the survey shows that more Republicans than Democrats support Obama on the tax cut compromise, it is "not having a huge impact on overall perceptions of him," Jensen said in a release.

On Tuesday, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, among those mentioned as leading contenders for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination, declared the tax cut package "a disappointing agreement," pointing to the deficit spending it requires. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.