House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said Monday the Obama-Republican tax cut package will be approved by Congress and signed into law this year, but the House may attempt to amend the estate tax provision before it reaches the President’s desk.
Republican leaders, however, say there is no chance any amendments to the agreement brokered with the President would pass. “In regards to passing and changing the frame work of the compromise, I don’t even think the President would agree to that,” said Don Stewart, spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Hoyer, speaking at the National Press Club today, said that before the Senate bill heads to the House floor it will be referred to the Rules Committee and the Ways and Means Committee for amendments. Last week, House Democrats voted within their caucus to reject President Obama's tax deal with Republicans.
Hoyer said he liked some aspects of the deal, including tax cuts for families earning less than $250,000 per year, and a one-year reduction in payroll taxes for Social Security. But he objects to the tax cuts for family income above $250,000 and estate-tax provisions that he said favored the wealthy. But in a speech that repeatedly urged Republicans and Democrats to find "common ground," Hoyer said compromise was inevitable.
"I think we will pass a bill," Hoyer said. "As opposed to simply not passing anything."
The estate tax was repealed for 2010. It is scheduled to return next year with a top rate of 55 percent on the portion estates above $1 million, $2 million for couples. Under this new provision, the threshold will rise to $5 million ($10 million for couples) while the rate falls to 35 percent.
The Senate resumed discussions on the tax cut package this afternoon and is expected to hold a final vote on Tuesday or Wednesday. But hours before the Senate convened, conservatives attacked the tax cut compromise.
One of the nation’s leading Tea Party groups, the “Tea Party Patriots”, circulated a petition online urging Republicans to “say no to the Obama tax compromise” because they cut a bad, back-room deal. "’The Compromise’ is against everything the House Republican Leadership agreed to in the ‘Pledge to America’, the petition says. “This type of behind closed door politics is not what ‘We the People’ voted for in November.”
Hoyer, the second-ranking Democrat in the House, expects Congress to wrap up final votes on the bill by December 17th, just in time for the Christmas holiday.
“I know a number of us believe that there is a compromise available, but we'll have to see where the votes lie,” Hoyer said. “The legislative process is usually a process where everybody says, jeez, I didn't get everything I wanted,” he added. “You know, my experience in life, I haven't gotten everything I wanted. That's life. That's the way we work with one another.”
In his speech, Hoyer also urged Congress to look beyond campaign politics and address the challenges facing the country including unemployment, economic growth and debt reduction.
Republicans too are skeptical about the deal. Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., ranking member of Budget and member of the Banking and Appropriations committees, said that “I have real angst about it, to say the least, because there's a fair amount of spending in here, especially the unemployment extension, which is not paid for.” Appearing on CNBC’s “Squak Box, ” Gregg said “We have been paying for the unemployment extension up until now.”
The White House announced the tentative agreement with Republican leaders last week. The deal would prevent large tax increases on January 1 for nearly all Americans, both middle class and high earners. The package also includes an extension of emergency unemployment insurance, which expired for nearly two million Americans at the end of November.
Shortly after the negotiation, Liberal Democrats assailed the President, saying they had been forced into signing off on a major tax deal that will line the pockets of the wealthiest Americans and add nearly $900 billion to the federal debt.
While the tax deal may not be popular among lawmakers, two new polls out today suggest it is backed by most Americans. A USA Today/Gallup poll found that 49 percent of Americans support the deal while a third oppose it and nearly one in five say they're not sure.
The poll also found that 51 percent said the tax cut issue has made them more pessimistic rather than more optimistic about the ability of the government to address the biggest problems facing the country.
A separate ABC News/Washington Post poll found 7 in 10 Americans back the tax deal.