Shortly before midnight Thursday, the much-debated GOP-Obama tax deal was passed in the House of Representatives by a bipartisan vote of 277-148. Those expecting a swift end to the protracted struggle in Congress were kept in abeyance earlier that day, after leftist opposition successfully derailed the vote in the House just before it was brought to the floor. After passing handily in the Senate by a vote of 81 to 19 Wednesday, the bill was widely projected to pass in the House by Thursday afternoon, but a procedural dispute sent Democrats back to the negotiating table. Passage was never seriously in jeopardy, but the perplexing aspect of the incident was constituency that halted the process. The tax cut revolt from far-left Democrats may be an early sign of serious opposition from President Obama’s key supporters; a prospect that ought to be deeply troubling to a president facing record-low approval ratings.
The dispute principally arose from the estate tax compromise brokered between Obama and Republican leadership, which leftist Democrats have vehemently railed against since the bill was unveiled. Under the new tax plan, the lapsed estate tax (or “death tax”) would be reinstated at 35% on estates in excess of $5 million. Left-wing Democrats, however, had pushed to include an amendment that would increase the rate to 45% on estates over $3.5 million. This is in addition to general disapproval of extending the current tax rates for all Americans, including high income earners.
Despite broad-based support (even among Republicans) and exhortation from the Obama administration, left-wing Democrats would not cede the amendment issue. The parameters of the debate had to be changed to ensure that objecting Democrats could vote, symbolically, for the amendment to the raise the estate tax (which was defeated overall), while also preventing an altered bill from having to be sent back to the Senate. Senate Republicans, backed by the Obama administration, issued a stern refusal to pass any altered bill. House opposition also demanded time to air dissent on the floor, which was granted.
Though annoying, the procedural stumble did not impact the bill’s passage. But the incident is notable for its clear defiance of the Obama administration’s entreaties. Leftist opposition was never conducted with the expectation that their draconian fiscal demands were achievable. Early on, leading opponent Anthony Weiner (D-NY) admitted “the writing is on the wall.” The same could be said for the amended version of the bill offered by House leftists — which failed, predictably, 194 to 233. Why was this futile battle prolonged?