WASHINGTON — The House of Representatives may take a politically explosive vote before November’s congressional elections on whether to extend tax cuts for individuals who earn less than $200,000 a year in gross adjusted income and joint filers who make less than $250,000, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Friday.
On Thursday night, Senate Democrats delayed a tax cut vote until after the election, but many Democrats are still pushing to get lawmakers on the record about whether and how to extend the George W. Bush-era tax reductions.
President Barack Obama and Democratic congressional leaders want to extend the 2001 and 2003 cuts, but not for higher-income Americans. With the economy struggling out of a deep recession, however, Republicans and many moderate Democrats prefer to extend all the Bush reductions, at least for a while.
The public is divided. A McClatchy-Marist poll earlier this week found that Americans are evenly split on whether Congress should extend all the tax cuts or retain only those for households that earn less than $250,000 while allowing taxes on the wealthiest 2 percent to rise.
The top two income-tax rates are now 33 and 35 percent. If nothing were done, they’d rise to 36 and 39.6 percent next year.
The pre-election tax cut debate appeared to be over Thursday night, when it became clear that the Senate didn’t have the 60 votes necessary to cut off extended debate. Democrats control 59 Senate seats, and moderate Democrats balked at raising taxes on anyone during the economic slump.
As a result, Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, issued a statement that said, “Democrats believe we must permanently extend tax cuts for the middle class before they expire at the end of the year, and we will.”
However, he added, “Unfortunately, to this point we have received no cooperation from Republicans to do so. . . . We will come back in November and stay in session as long as it takes to get this done."
Friday, though, Pelosi, a California Democrat, reopened the door to a vote, at least in the House.
“We will retain the right to proceed as we choose. We’ll take it one day at a time,” she said when asked about the possibility of a vote.
One scenario that's under consideration is to bring up the middle class cuts under a procedure that would limit debate and require the approval of two-thirds of those voting. Democrats control 255 House seats, Republicans, 178.
Some Democrats think that such a vote would put Republicans on the spot because they wouldn’t want to vote for raising taxes on the middle class.
However, such a vote could hurt centrist Democrats, many of whom are facing tough re-election battles. Earlier this month, 31 House Democrats wrote their leaders urging that the cuts be extended for everyone, and they’re wary that their GOP rivals may accuse them of wanting to raise taxes, even on the wealthy.
The moderates' letter, signed at the top by Rep. Jim Matheson of Utah, says, "In recent weeks, we have heard from a diverse spectrum of economists, small business owners and families who have voiced concerns that raising any taxes right now could negatively impact economic growth."
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