Changes could help overcome opposition from Democrats
WASHINGTON – The White House and key lawmakers in both parties cleared the way Thursday night for swift Senate action to avert a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for most Americans, agreeing to renew expiring breaks for ethanol and other forms of alternative energy.
Tax provisions aimed at increasing production of hybrid automobiles, biodiesel fuel, energy-efficient homes, coal and energy-efficient household appliances would be extended through the end of 2011 under the bill, according to a summary describing the outlines of the expanded bill.
There was no timetable for a final vote, but the decision to expand the scope of the original bill capped days of secret negotiations aimed at increasing support.
The summary circulated as the White House predicted that the deal President Barack Obama struck with top Republicans would clear by year’s end – even though House Democrats voted Thursday not to allow it to reach the floor for a vote without changes to scale back tax relief for the rich.
“If it’s take it or leave it, we’ll leave it,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, after a closed-door meeting in which rank-and-file Democrats chanted, “Just say no.”
“The deal will get passed,” said presidential press secretary Robert Gibbs. There were no predictions to the contrary among senior Democrats on either side of the Capitol.
As announced by Obama on Monday, the deal would extend tax breaks at all income levels that are due to expire on Jan. 1, renew a program of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed that is due to lapse within days and implement a one-year cut in Social Security taxes.
The two-year cost of the plan, estimated at as much as $900 billion, would further swell record federal deficits.
Despite the additional red ink, the president has said the plan is essential to add strength to an economy recovering slowly from the worst recession in eight decades.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said he expects most of his rank and file to support the bill. Prominent House Republicans back it, too, although they have generally refrained from speaking out at a time when doing so would divert attention from the spectacle of Obama at odds with lawmakers of his own party.
Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, in line to become House speaker when Republicans take power in January, “supports the framework as agreed to by” Obama and McConnell and spoke with the president about it over the weekend, a spokesman said Thursday.
Rep. Paul Ryan, of Wisconsin, whose views on economic issues are influential among House Republicans, also swung behind it. “While I have concerns with some specific aspects of the plan, I support the proposed framework to avert further economic hardship and provide a first step to restore the foundations for sustained growth and job creation,” he said in an interview.
It was not clear precisely what changes House Democrats would seek, but much of the criticism focused on a provision that would cut taxes on large estates.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said, “That was a bridge too far for many of our members” already upset about Obama’s decision to bow to Republican demands for extending tax cuts on individuals making over $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000.
Vice President Joe Biden has told Democrats in closed-door meetings this week that they are free to oppose the agreement but it might unravel if they do, according to officials familiar with the discussions.
Whatever the disagreement over the economic wisdom of renewing tax cuts for the wealthy, the legislation also marks the emergence of a new era of divided government following midterm elections in which the Republicans won power in the House and gained seats in the Senate.
Privately, several House Democrats complained that the White House had not consulted them while negotiating a deal with McConnell.
The House passed a measure last week that would have let the tax cuts lapse at higher incomes, but Senate Republicans blocked it on Saturday – with the knowledge the president had already agreed he was ready to sign a measure that was more to their liking.
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