Congressional Democrats this week have quickly rallied behind President Obama’s call for extending reduced tax rates for people who earn less than $250,000 a year, as members, at least for the moment, shake off internal disagreements for the sake of unified messaging.
With the House poised to vote before the August recess to extend all of the George W. Bush-era tax cuts, which expire in January, Senate Democrats plan their own vote as early as next week on Obama’s proposal.
On Tuesday, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, senior Obama strategist David Axelrod, and chief congressional liaison Rob Nabors met with Senate Democrats for an hour during their party’s Tuesday caucus lunch to make the case for Obama’s plan.
Senate Democrats emerged claiming agreement. “We’re united,” said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said that Geithner and Axelrod made a persuasive case that it is important for the president and Democrats to show a desire to address middle-class pressures and take steps toward deficit reduction, which would be gained by savings from limiting the scope of the tax-cut extension.
Democratic senators said they are united for now but are leaving the door open to other trade-offs down the road.
The votes will amount to symbolic attempts to shape debate headed into the election, with the actual policy issues left to be addressed later. But the issue of what exactly to vote on has been the focus of a series of meetings between Senate Democratic leaders and senior White House officials, according to Senate Democratic aides — an indication of the political significance of the issue.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., who heads Senate Democrats' messaging and policy shop, has long urged extending the cuts for all but those who earn more than $1 million a year. Schumer believes a $1 million cutoff, while simplistic, deprives Republicans of the chance to claim the cuts hit the middle class by creating a “bright, clear line” at a number that most Americans associate with wealth, a Democratic leadership aide said.
The aide said that in a series of recent meetings with Schumer, White House officials argued the political and policy benefits of a lower cutoff. Schumer disagreed, but said he “would have the president’s back,” the aide said.
The White House has also adjusted. Administration officials last month suggested that Reid hold a vote on a proposal extending the cuts for people with an annual income of less than $250,000 while delaying the pending sequestration of defense and domestic spending cuts for six months, according to Democratic staffers. The White House argued that the vote would force Republicans to choose between extending all of the tax cuts and preventing cuts to the defense budget. But Senate Democrats, worried about losing negotiating leverage gained by holding firm on the sequester, were cool to the idea.
The White House has since dropped that idea, Democratic aides said.