With additional reporting by Ryan Grim.
NEW YORK -- A trio of progressive groups forcefully came out Friday in support of holding a vote on tax cuts for the middle-class only -- without any vote on cuts for the wealthiest Americans -- and the top Democratic leaders in Congress are promising to try to pass tax cuts for the majority of the country, without committing to a specific strategy.
In an interview with The Huffington Post last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Cali.) said that passing middle-class tax cuts was her number-one priority in the lame duck and the president had told her he was on board.
"Maybe people have interpreted it that way, [that the president would cave on tax cuts for the rich], but I was with the president [last Wednesday], and I did not get that impression from him. It was after his press conference," she said. "I know that we have to get a bill passed in the Senate, but I know the President has been consistent in his campaign and ever since that it's been about tax cuts for the middle class -- $250,000 and under."
Pelosi also revealed that she didn't move them before the election because Democratic members were afraid they'd be accused of hurting small businesses.
"Now, again, what can they pass in the Senate?" she added. "We could have passed this 250 here. [Republicans] would have had a thing -- hurting small business, which isn't even true. But the members use the issue in the campaign, but we can pass that. The question is, is there something we can put together with all the procedural stuff in the Senate, so we can expedite this? There's not much time when we get back -- one week, and then two weeks, or even three."
"While no final decisions have been made about the process going forward, Senator Reid remains committed to passing tax cuts for the middle class," replied a Senate leadership aide in response to an inquiry from The Huffington Post.
The AFL-CIO, Progressive Change Campaign Committee (PCCC) and Democracy for America (DFA) all called for Democratic leaders to focus on middle-class tax cuts on Friday, following a Huffington Post interview with David Axelrod, in which the White House senior adviser acknowledged that political realities were compelling the administration to cut a deal on high-end tax rates.
Speaking to reporters on Friday in South Korea, Obama attempted to clarify his position, stating, "I want to make sure that taxes don't go up for middle-class families starting on January 1st. That is my number-one priority for those families and for our economy." He added, however, that he believes it would also be "fiscally irresponsible for us to permanently extend the high-income tax cuts." He hinted once more that a deal with Republicans was in the offing.
"The election is over -- we believe Congress ought to get down to business and vote on extending the tax cuts for the middle class, and not vote on the tax cuts for the rich," Bill Samuel, the legislative director of the AFL-CIO, told the Plum Line's Greg Sargent on Friday. "Congress should not extend the tax cuts for the rich -- not even temporarily -- because that would do more harm than good for the economy."
Likewise, DFA Communications Director Levana Layendecker argued, "It's hard to imagine a smarter fight for Democrats to pick at this moment than forcing every Republican to vote up-or-down on a clean middle-class tax cut that benefits 98% of Americans."
"The path forward on tax cuts is obvious: Schedule one vote, and one vote only, on renewing the middle class tax cuts for 98% of Americans and dare the Republicans to vote against it," PCCC co-founder Adam Green told Sargent. "Republicans will either cave or end their post-election honeymoon by pitting themselves against 98% of Americans. That's how you fight and put Republicans on defense."
UPDATE: In a post on the Wonk Room, Center for American Progress President and CEO John Podesta calls for passing business tax cuts instead of tax cuts for the wealthy:
As the White House staff settles on a strategy for the tax cut debate, they should consider an idea put forward by Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA). He has suggested that rather than extending the tax cuts for the top two percent, Congress consider a number of business tax cuts that would be far more likely to spur job creation and more sustained economic growth. He proposed a range of possible business tax cuts to create jobs, but my favorite is a temporary tax credit against payroll taxes. That is a direct way to reduce the costs of businesses hiring new workers, and I hope the White House includes this idea in whatever proposal it puts forward for consideration at next week's bipartisan Congressional meeting.
The kinds of ideas put forward by Sen. Warner combined with middle class tax cuts and extending unemployment insurance are far sounder as temporary measures to aid economic recovery compared to Republicans' push to make all the Bush tax cuts permanent.