The House Dems' Dilemma

Greg Sargent at the Washington Post argues that Sheldon Whitehouse and other liberal senators who have backed President Obama's controversial tax deal with the Republicans have made it near impossible for left-leaning members of the House to press for change:

Here's the situation, in a nutshell. Despite their own dislike of the tax cut compromise, House Dem leaders want it to pass the House. Period, full stop. They want the middle class tax cuts and unemployment benefits to continue, and they don't want to thwart an initiative upon which President Obama has staked so much.

At the same time, Dem leaders need to do something about the anger and near-despair among the House Dem rank and file. The idea has been to change the bill in some way to make it more palatable to Dems and to make them feel they've had a role in the process -- perhaps via an amendment on the hated estate tax provision.

But here's the problem. The tax deal passed the Senate yesterday by a huge number, 83-15. Worse for House Dems, a number of notable liberals voted for it, including Barbara Boxer, Chris Dodd, Sheldon Whitehouse and John Kerry.

The overwhelming support for the tax deal -- even among Senate liberals -- gives House Dem leaders less maneuvering room to make any substantial changes to the bill. They don't want to risk making changes that wouldn't have support if the bill were kicked back to the Senate, because they don't want to risk imperiling the deal.

"It really takes the air out of the sails of House Democrats when there's such a huge vote in the Senate for it," one House aide lamented to me. "It changes the dynamic in an unfortunate way. If you have the Senate saying they're accepting this deal in large margins, you have no partners to improve this."

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