A top House Democrat is pushing to rebrand the looming expiration of tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush as a "Republican tax increase," arguing that the GOP deserves the blame because the tax cuts were originally written to run out at the end of the 2010.
But in the game of political chicken that has sprung up over the tax-cut stalemate, Republicans say that is a misreading of history, arguing that Democrats should bear the blame for blocking past efforts to make the tax cuts permanent.
With Congress set to adjourn this week, the tax fight has come to dominate the debate on Capitol Hill, with both parties looking to score political points in advance of a midterm election that will decide whether Democrats continue to control both chambers of Congress next year.
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer on Tuesday said the tax cuts are scheduled to expire at the end of this year because Republicans squeezed the tax cuts in as part of their annual budget bills, under a parliamentary maneuver that allowed for bigger deficits if the cuts could be considered "temporary."
"Let me remind you, the reason we are in this position is because Republicans in 2001 and 2003 passed bills which put us in this position [and] which said these taxes would be phased out," the Maryland Democrat told reporters. "They were playing budget games."
Mr. Obama and congressional Democratic leaders want to extend some of the Bush tax breaks targeting the middle class, but do not want to extend the cuts for wealthier tax filers. Republicans — and a number of nervous Democrats — say all the cuts should be extended past their year-end expiration date, at least temporarily.
Republicans counter Mr. Hoyer's argument by noting that Senate Democrats have repeatedly refused to make them permanent on various occasions since they were first approved in 2001 and 2003, including as recently as this year.
"They are attempting to rewrite history," said Ryan Patmintra, a spokesman for Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican. "Much like they are today, Democrats were largely unified in their opposition to allowing the tax-rate reductions to become permanent."
Most Senate Democrats refused to support the tax plans Mr. Bush ushered through Congress, arguing the proposals were not paid for with offsetting spending cuts and would add considerably to the national debt.
Without additional Democrats signing on, one of the only options left for Republicans under Senate rules was to allow the cuts to expire — "sunset" — by the end of 2010.
Under Senate rules, tax cuts inserted into budget legislation must receive 60 votes to become permanent. Otherwise, the breaks must expire after 10 years.
Passed 58 to 33, the 2001 the tax cuts received the support of a dozen Senate Democrats, while Republicans Sens. John McCain of Arizona and Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island opposed them.
Two years later, as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan heated up, Democratic support dropped off. The GOP still was able to muscle through the $350 billion package, with then-Vice President Dick Cheney being called on to cast a rare tiebreaking vote.
Now, President Obama and Democratic leaders want to extend the tax cuts for individuals making less than $200,000 and households making less than $250,000. The plan is estimated to cost $3 trillion over 10 years. Republicans, joined by a significant number of Democrats in both chambers, want to extend all the tax cuts, which would add $700 billion onto Mr. Obama's plan.
Asked about Mr. Hoyer's claim that Republicans are to blame for the impending tax increase, J.D. Foster, a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative-leaning think tank, said, "This is the kind of intentionally confusing rhetoric Washington specializes in."
Mr. Bush "proposed [tax cuts] to be permanent. In every budget he offered, they were to be permanent," Mr. Foster said. "I just have to wonder what planet [Mr. Hoyer] is on."
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