Unusual split for Iowa delegation as House passes tax cut deal

The House of Representatives approved a bill last night to extend all the Bush tax cuts for two years, reduce the estate tax, and extend benefits for some unemployed people by 13 months. The bill passed by an unusual bipartisan vote of 277 to 148. The Democratic caucus split 139 in favor of the bill and 112 against, while Republicans overwhelmingly supported the bill by a 138 to 36 margin. The roll call shows that Iowa Democrats Leonard Boswell (IA-03) and Dave Loebsack (IA-02) voted for the bill, as did Republican Tom Latham (IA-04). Democrat Bruce Braley (IA-01) and Republican Steve King (IA-05) both voted no.

It's a disgrace that House Democrats went along with a so-called "compromise" that makes the lowest-income workers pay more, does nothing for people who have exhausted 99 weeks of unemployment benefits, and will lay the groundwork for big cuts to domestic spending and Social Security in the future. President Barack Obama deserves the most blame for not negotiating a better deal with Republican leaders. He could have changed the dynamic months ago by making a clear threat to veto any extension of the tax cuts for the highest incomes. But he lacked the courage or the integrity to stand up for tax policies he claims to believe in.

Democrats should nevertheless have voted against this bill, in my opinion. They campaigned against the Bush tax cuts for a decade and are now extending them at all income levels, setting the stage for a permanent extension two years from now. Sorry, Sue Dvorsky: that's not standing up for the middle class.

It's a moral failure for the Democratic Party to ask people earning less than $20,000 and families earning less than $40,000 to pay a bit more while the wealthiest people don't sacrifice a penny. Democrats may have worried the Republican-controlled House would pass an even less favorable bill in the new year, which Obama would sign.

After the jump I've posted statements from Braley, Loebsack and Boswell. You can tell Loebsack isn't proud of this vote, and Boswell makes some excuses too. But it's consistent with his style: "As I have always said, my legislative philosophy is if you can't take home the whole loaf of bread, grab as many slices as you can to benefit your constituents [...]."

Braley's press release touting his no vote uses a Republican frame ("Americans spoke clearly on November second. Congress must get serious about reducing the deficit and become better stewards of their tax dollars [...]"). His remarks during the House floor debate also focused on fiscal conservatism, although Braley also threw in some populist lines criticizing the tax breaks for the rich. He also cited the threat to "the long-term viability of Social Security."

UPDATE: In the comments, John Deeth mentioned the House vote on an amendment to raise the estate tax rate and lower the exemption to that tax received just 194 yes votes, all from Democrats. Braley and Loebsack voted with the majority of their caucus, but Boswell was among the 60 Democrats who voted with Republicans. Changing the bill would have sent the measure back to the Senate rather than directly to the president's desk.

Statement from Representative Dave Loebsack, December 16:

WASHINGTON, D.C.-Congressman Dave Loebsack released the following statement tonight after the House of Representatives passed H.R. 4853, the Tax Relief, Unemployment Insurance Reauthorization, and Job Creation Act of 2010.

"I promised that I would fight for continued tax relief for hard-working Iowa families and small businesses. The bill that passed the House of Representatives tonight is far from perfect, but after Congress failed to address this issue for months on end, it was the only choice to make sure that the many Iowa families that are struggling to make ends meet do not end up with fewer dollars in their pocket beginning January 1st.

"The bill also extends the availability of emergency unemployment insurance for 13 months, which will benefit the millions of Iowa and American families still struggling to find work due to the economic downturn. I am also pleased that marriage penalty relief, the student loan interest deduction, the research and development tax credit, and an extension of small business expensing were included.

"The renewable energy industry is vital for Iowa's economy and many of our communities' continued success. Already, because of the biodiesel tax credit expiring and the economic downturn, thousands have been laid off and with the looming expiration of the ethanol blender tax credit, thousands more jobs across Iowa and the Midwest are endangered. The jobs surrounding Iowa's burgeoning wind-energy industry have also been in flux because of the economy, which is why I am pleased a program which supports continued investment in the industry will be extended for another year.

"I wrote to House Leadership months ago urging them to address this issue as quickly as possible. Just two weeks ago, I voted for legislation that would have permanently extended middle-class tax cuts. This bill failed in the Senate, and tonight, in the eleventh hour, we were forced to vote on a package that also gives billions to the richest Americans. I have grave concerns about adding to the deficit to benefit the wealthiest Americans, but the reality is it would be wrong to let the middle-class tax cuts expire because of political posturing and take more money from the hands of hard-working Americans, especially in these hard economic times.

"I hear time and again that Iowans are tired of the dysfunction of Washington and they want to see the work of the American people get done. I took this vote with a caveat that we have to do better. Our nation is facing great challenges and Congress must come together to craft pragmatic solutions that will restore our nation's fiscal health and get our country moving again.  That sentiment, so often expressed by Iowans and Americans more generally, will continue to guide me as the new Congress and President Obama attempt to tackle our nation's pressing problems."

Statement from Leonard Boswell, December 16:

Boswell Votes to Extend Critical Tax Cuts for Iowa's Middle Class and Renewable Energy Industry

Washington, DC - Today, Congressman Leonard Boswell voted to extend middle-class tax cuts to spur economic growth and help Iowa families struggling in a tough economy.

"As our economy recovers, we need to rebuild America's middle class and maintaining these tax cuts for Iowa's working families is critical to making sure they have the ability to make ends meet," Boswell said. "Unfortunately, in exchange for taking care of our working Americans, Congress was forced to negotiate a multi-billion dollar ransom in the form of tax cuts for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans. This is billions in unnecessary spending that is not offset and will be unfairly shouldered by our children and grandchildren."

This legislation also contains the extension of unemployment benefits for out-of-work Americans, restores the biodiesel tax credit retroactively, and renews the per gallon tax credits for ethanol and 54 cents tariff on imported ethanol.

"The renewal of these key energy tax credits will restore stability in Iowa's renewable energy industry which employs thousands of Iowans in communities across the state," said Boswell.

Statement from Bruce Braley, December 16:

Washington, DC - Congressman Bruce Braley (D-Iowa) voted against exploding the deficit by $858 billion dollars this evening.  The bill passed the House by a vote of 277-148.

"Americans spoke clearly on November second. Congress must get serious about reducing the deficit and become better stewards of their tax dollars," Braley said.  "After endless talk about fiscal responsibility, the looming threat of a growing deficit and forcing America's next generation into crushing debt to China - a so-called tax deal has been produced that will explode the deficit by $858 billion dollars.  We cannot keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to difficult decisions about the deficit, especially with a package that threatens the financial stability of our nation."

Braley spoke on the floor regarding the bill.  His remarks are attached.

Attached Braley floor remarks:

Madame Speaker, Americans spoke clearly on November second. Congress must get serious about reducing the deficit and become better stewards of their tax dollars. After endless talk throughout this session about fiscal responsibility, the looming threat of a growing deficit and forcing America's next generation into crushing debt to China--a so-called tax deal has been produced. Today this House will vote on a bill that will explode the deficit by $858 billion dollars.

While this package includes several programs I have proudly supported, I cannot support the underlying bill. As recently as last week I voted to give every American a tax cut by making the middle class tax cuts permanent for the millions of American families, consumers and small business owners who drive our economy. I have consistently voted to extend unemployment insurance to assist the families struggling in this difficult recession. I have voted to extend the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Tax Credit to assist our nation's low-income families who have a difficult enough time making ends meet as it is. I have consistently voted for ethanol and biodiesel tax credits that sustain the growth of our nation's renewable energy industry and support the jobs of thousands of my constituents in Iowa.

Those were some of the good things included in this deal. Unfortunately, the merits of those good things do not outweigh the bad things in this deal. I cannot justify mortgaging our children's futures to provide a Christmas bonanza to the privileged few. I refuse to support increasing the deficit by at least $81 billion to provide a tax break to the wealthiest persons in this country. I refuse to support a bill that would balloon the deficit by $23 billion to provide an average tax break of more than $1.5 million to only 6,600 families a year. And I unequivocally refuse to threaten the long-term viability of social security with a shell game to pay for diminished social security contributions.

I'm voting "no" on this bad deal because we cannot keep kicking the can down the road when it comes to difficult decisions about the deficit, especially with a package that threatens the financial stability of our nation. I urge my colleagues to join me in voting "no."

  • Also interesting

    was the prior vote on time frame for the estate tax rates (the Sander Levin amendment). This was basically the Democrat's "make the bad bill better" amendment that failed 194-233. Boswell was among the 60 Democrats who joined the unanimous Republicans in voting no, while Braley and Loebsack were yes.  An indicator that Leonard will return to his Blue Dog ways under GOP control...

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