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House Dems Want to Change Tax Cut Deal Before Vote

Steny Hoyer

Democratic leaders in the House continue to grumble over President Obama's package deal with Republicans that would extend the Bush tax cuts, but they are signaling they'll nevertheless put the deal up for a vote -- after making some changes.

The Senate will take a key test vote on the tax cut deal this afternoon, and they'll need at least 60 votes in favor of the deal to overcome filibusters from Republican Sen. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and independent Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.). (The latter staged a symbolic filibuster for more than eight hours on the Senate floor Friday.)

The measure, which is estimated to cost nearly $900 billion and is not paid for, is expected to get through the Senate despite that opposition. (You can watch Democratic Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado explain on "Washington Unplugged" why he's voting in favor of the plan on at 12:30 p.m. ET.) If and when that happens, the House is expected to take up the bill.

"I think we're going to have a vote on the Senate bill with possible changes," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said this morning in a speech at the National Press Club in Washington, CBS News Senior Political Producer Jill Jackson reports.

Those changes could happen in the House Ways and Means Committee, where the bill could end up after the Senate passes it, Hoyer said. Given the reaction to the proposal, the committee would most likely raise the proposed estate tax rate and lower the threshold at which it kicks in.

President Obama's proposed deal would set the tax at 35 percent on estate transactions of more than $5 million for the next two years. An additional $5 million for the spouse could also pass untaxed. The estate tax was repealed for 2010, but under current law, it is scheduled to return next year with a top rate of 55 percent on estate transactions of more than $1 million or $2 million for couples.

The president's plan would also temporarily extend all of the Bush tax cuts -- including those for the wealthiest Americans -- extend unemployment insurance for 13 months and make a temporary cut to the payroll tax, among other things.

While many House Democrats have expressed outrage at the prospect of extending the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, the caucus may be more incensed by the estate tax. Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky (Ill.) told the Hotsheet last week it was the most "offensive" part of the deal.

Hoyer today blasted Republicans for "going to the mat for a high estate tax exemption that would exclusively benefit just 39,000 of America's wealthiest families."

Explaining Democratic opposition to the plan, Hoyer said, "I simply do not believe that the deep debt that comes from Republican upper-income and estate tax cuts is worth their minimal impact on job creation. Those cuts harm our long-term prosperity, with little short-term gain in return. They are founded on the fiscal fiction that the billions included for the best-off among us will have a significant positive effect on job growth."

Having said that, Hoyer said action to extend at least some of the Bush tax cuts is necessary and called compromise "inevitable."

He praised some parts of the plan, saying that "extending unemployment insurance, cutting payroll taxes, and keeping taxes low on income under $250,000 are all proven steps to grow the economy, help families in need, and create jobs."

House Democrats declared their contempt with the plan loud and clear last week, after starting a chant of "Just Say No" at a caucus meeting and taking a symbolic vote to reject it.

On "Fox News Sunday" yesterday, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the outgoing chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, called the estate tax rate a "choking point." However, he said, "I am confident that when we get to January, there will be no tax increases on middle-income Americans. We're not going to hold this thing up at the end of the day."

Appearing on CBS News' "Face the Nation" Sunday, White House Senior Adviser David Axelrod said he didn't foresee "major changes" being made by the House.

Senate to Hold Test Vote on Obama-GOP Tax Deal
Bernie Sanders Holds Old-School Filibuster Against Obama-GOP Tax Cut Deal
Bill Clinton and Obama Team up to Push Tax Deal
House Democrats: "Just Say No" to Tax Deal

Stephanie Condon is a political reporter for You can read more of her posts here. Follow Hotsheet on Facebook and Twitter.