In Selling Tax Deal to Democrats, Administration May Be on Its Own


President Obama and his negotiators cut this tax deal, and it might be up to them to sell it to their fellow partisans in Congress.

Since Monday night, it's become clear that congressional Democrats aren't exactly itching to pass this deal, and neither the House nor the Senate has seen Democratic leaders jump at the opportunity to press their caucuses to accept the president's plan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi criticized the high-end tax extension on Twitter; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid stressed that the deal is "not done yet"; the lead House Democratic negotiator, incoming Budget Committee Ranking Member Chris Van Hollen, made it clear that the Democratic caucus has not signed off; and the incoming co-chairs of the House Progressive Caucus released a statement criticizing it.

House Democrats will meet tonight to discuss the deal, but Democratic leaders will not attempt to sell it to their members.

"We will hear from our caucus," said a spokesman for Pelosi.

That's the typical process for House Democrats--leaders don't urge the caucus to vote for a bill before members have had a chance to discuss it--but there are no signs as of yet that Pelosi, or any member of her leadership team, is eager to carry the administration's water on this compromise. Pelosi has successfully pushed numerous administration initiatives through the House over the past two years, rallying Democratic votes in favor of health care reform, cap and trade, and financial reform.

"There is no one in leadership who has signed off on this and is willing to carry the water for it," said one senior Democratic House aide. "That may fall on the White House."

"We're a bottom-up caucus, so we need to have a conversation about the deal that was brokered," said another senior Democratic aide, agreeing that no one in leadership, at this point, appears willing to press Democrats for "yes" votes.

No one from the administration will appear at Tuesday night's meeting to make the case, according to Democratic aides. With members yet to study this deal and its deficit impact, it's unclear whether or not it would pass if a vote were held today.

Democrats will want to hear from the administration about this compromise, Democratic aides said. It would be nice if President Obama himself would appear, one aide said.

Given that desire, it's reasonable to expect someone from the administration, possibly the president, to address House Democrats sometime in the next week to seek support for the tax-cut compromise.

Vice President Joe Biden, meanwhile, made his case for the tax-cut deal to Senate Democrats today, speaking at their weekly caucus luncheon.

Spokespeople for both Democratic whips, Rep. James Clyburn (D-SC) and Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), confirmed that their bosses would whip votes in favor of a tax-cut deal once actual legislation makes it to the floor. But for a bill to come up for a vote, someone has to introduce it, and (in all practicality) Democratic leaders need to agree to add it to the calendar.

At this point, however, it's not as if President Obama has his Hill allies working to secure votes for the compromise package. The sentiment, right now, is that the administration cut this deal, and it's on them to sell it to Democrats in Congress.

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Chris Good is a political reporter for ABC News. He was previously an associate editor at The Atlantic and a reporter for The Hill.

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