A Second Order of ‘Crap Sandwiches’?

By Natalie Gewargis

Oct 1, 2008 11:52am

Meeting privately with his fellow House Republicans Sunday night, House Minority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, infamously described the economic rescue package as a "crap sandwich" that he was nonetheless serving to his members, and asking them to vote for.

Largely, they refrained. The bill failed in the house, 205-228, with 66% of the House GOP caucus voting against it.

The Senate announced last night that it is tonight voting on an version of that bill that Senate leaders — in consultation with Boehner’s office — amended with the hopes of winning more House Republicans when the House takes up the bill again tomorrow or Friday. They are trying to jump start the process, to pressure the House to act.

But some fear that all the Senate is doing is ordering up a different kind of "crap sandwich" — one that will be found distasteful by even more Democrats, winning over few Republicans.

Significantly, neither House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Maryland, nor House Minority Whip Roy Blunt, R-Mo. — in charge of vote-counting — signed off on this bill.

While the Senate will pass its version of the rescue bill with more than 70 votes, according to Senate sources, Senators have taken the partisan bickering over the rescue bill and added a stalled disagreement over a separate issue — "tax extenders," or extending various tax relief provisions that are due to expire — into the mix.

Many House Republicans like the addition of tax extenders. So it’s possible that some of the 133 Republicans who voted against the bill will join the 65 who voted for it.

But some conservative Democrats have expressed serious concerns about the fact that extending these tax cuts is not being paid for in the budget. Adding the provision may attract House Republicans, but it could alienate these fiscally-conscious Democrats, causing them to abandon the 140 House Democrats who voted for the bill to join the 95 who voted against it.

Will this Senate move be like throwing a bucket of water or a bucket of kerosene onto the smoldering embers of the rescue bill?

The Senate version of the rescue, with its tax bill attached, is certainly geared more at gaining Republican votes than Democratic ones. In fact, look for some fiscally conservative Democrats to jump ship.

Witness the paper statement House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., issued last night about the Senate vote, released last night.

She did not send an "attaboy Harry" over to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Instead, she offered the tepid, "The Congress will work its will."

**

To the extent that there is a third party in the Congress, it’s the Blue Dogs, 47 conservative and moderate Democrats that insist on fiscal responsibility. Usually the Blue Dogs are united on spending measures and they carry a great weight in the House, where Democrats can’t pass anything without their say-so.

Blue Dogs were split on the rescue bill — 26 for and 21 against.

Blue Dogs were united, however, against the tax extenders bill that Senators are going to lash onto the rescue bill. And it wasn’t just the Blue Dogs. 218 Democrats declared in a letter to Reid in June they would not support a tax extenders bill that violates "pay as you go" rules. Republicans in the Senate took the opposite view and blocked all tax bills passed by House Democrats. There had been no resolution this year.

It’s unclear how many Blue Dogs (if any) will be ticked off enough about the tax bill to jump ship on the rescue bill it will soon be attached to. They’ll have to go back on their word to support the Senate version of the rescue.

Blue Dogs want all tax cuts to be "paid for" with spending cuts or tax increases elsewhere. And the version of the tax extenders bill (which extends tax credits for renewable energy research and production) passed by the House claimed to do just that.

Senators passed a bill more palatable to Republicans, which was not "paid for," but just extended the popular tax credits. Senators also threw in a short-term patch for the dreaded AMT, which applies archaic tax laws written to make rich people a generation ago pay their taxes, but today ensnares middle class Americans trying to write off their mortgages. The senate didn’t pay for this tax cut either, although its unclear Blue Dogs would have fallen on their swords over an un-paid for middle class tax relief bill.

The tax bill, in fact, had been written off and it appeared that Democrats would wait for next year to resolve things.

The Senate should clear its version of the rescue package easily tonight. They’ll add in the provision to raise the FDIC insurance limit to 250,000 per person per bank and also tack on the popular tax extender legislation (to extend tax credits for renewable energy research and other matters they passed earlier)

Then it goes over to a very uncertain future on the other side of the building.

**

House Democrats are saying things along the lines of, "Well, I assume Leader Boehner knows he can deliver 30 votes for the Senate version, given that he signed of on this."

The implication: not only will Boehner need to provide the entire 13-vote margin that the bill lost by on Monday, but also that the addition of the unpaid-for "tax extenders" could cause up to 17 Democrats who voted for the bill Monday to walk. If not more.

Some in Democratic leadership hope that the Senate addition of another tax relief provision — what’s called an AMT patch — could help keep those Blue Dogs on board, and that maybe some of the more liberal members will change their votes for the bill to support the tax extensions for renewable energy sources.

And, as previously discussed, they are also contemplating adding an extension of unemployment insurance to the bill.

Job numbers come out Friday morning (it seems likelier now that the vote will be Friday rather than Thursday) so that could help them pass it as well — Democrats hope — since those numbers are expected to be typically bad.

So bottom line: this thing could actually lose worse than it did Monday.

– Jake Tapper and Z. Byron Wolf

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