A Democratic member of Congress who opposes President Obama's tax cut deal with congressional Republicans says the deal is fundamentally unfair because it gives two years of tax cuts for the rich in exchange for just one year of extra help for the jobless.
"The core concept is fairness. And it seems that fairness means an equitable matchup of the length of time in the tax proposal and the unemployment insurance proposal," Rep. David Wu (D-Ore.) told HuffPost on Thursday. "To me, it is a core Democratic value to have the benefits for folks who are trying to hold onto their apartments, or hold onto their car, or hold on to their health insurance, that they benefit concurrently with folks benefiting from the tax provisions. It just seemed intuitively obvious."
Rank-and-file House Democrats have rebelled against the White House's tax cuts compromise, prompting Democratic leadership to delay a Thursday morning vote that would have sent the bill to the president's desk. Democratic members have objected in particular to the process -- leadership planned to bring the bill to the House floor Thursday under a rule allowing for a vote on just one Democratic amendment.
"The outcome would have been different had it been the will of the caucus, had the caucus had an opportunity to work its will," Wu said. "Had we succeeded at the House level there would have been a subsequent engagement with the Senate and the White House. Quite frankly I think this is a battle that we Democrats want to have. I think it is both a policy mistake and a political mistake to not fight on this. I think ultimately a majority of Americans will agree with us."
Among the proposed changes left behind was Wu's resolution to equalize the duration of extended unemployment benefits and tax cuts. "The Democratic Caucus shall vote to consider a bill in the House where the extension date of all Bush tax cuts is equal to the extension of Unemployment Insurance Benefit," the resolution said.
Wu told Huffpost he withdrew the proposal on Tuesday at the request of House leadership. "It was withdrawn with the understanding it would be considered and what happened after that is murky to us all, and that's the unfortunate thing about the current way we make decisions within the caucus," Wu said.
Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told HuffPost he asked Wu to pull the resolution because it probably wouldn't have had enough support within a caucus whose members were clamoring for attention to a plethora of problems in the compromise.
"In my view as chairman he would not have had the votes....He would have been precluding the other discussions from taking place," Larson told HuffPost. "I bent over backwards to give everybody in the caucus an opportunity to speak."
The only amendment that will reach the House floor would modify the White House's deal with Republicans to reduce the rate of the estate tax for wealthy heirs. The White House would exempt the first $5 million and tax the rest at 35 percent. Democrats want to exempt the first $3.5 million and tax the rest 45 percent.
"Where we could develop the greatest consensus and act with the greatest clarity was with doing away with the windfall for the wealthy on the estate tax," Larson said.
Congress failed to reauthorize Emergency Unemployment Compensation and Extended Benefits programs before they lapsed two weeks ago. The programs provided up to 73 weeks of benefits beyond the 26 standard weeks covered by states. More than a million people have already had their benefits interrupted.
The deal would reauthorize those programs and people who missed checks will be paid retroactively within a few weeks. The bill would keep the programs going through 2011, meaning people laid off at the beginning of 2010 would be able to receive up to 99 weeks of benefits. But another reauthorization a year from now will be much more difficult in a Republican-controlled House, even though the national unemployment rate will likely remain above 9 percent.