STEVE INSKEEP, Host:
President Obama's tax deal with Republicans has some Democrats asking a question. The question is why they would vote to pass a policy they passionately oppose? The deal extends tax cuts for the middle class, as well as unemployment benefits, which Democrats wanted. It also extends tax cuts for the wealthy and expands the federal budget shortfall, which many Democrats oppose. Now, some are asking how they could change the terms of the deal. NPR's Brian Naylor reports.
BRAIN NAYLOR: Democrat Jim McGovern just finished a successful campaign for re- election. He says for six months he traveled his Massachusetts district, arguing in favor of extending the Bush era tax cuts for middle income tax payers and letting taxes rise for wealthy Americans. So McGovern is none too pleased with the agreement the president reached to continue all the tax cuts for another two years.
JIM MCGOVERN: I said it for six months because I actually believed it was the right policy, and I think it's a policy that was worth fighting for. I wish the president had put up a bigger fight. I hope Democrats in the House and Senate put up a bigger fight. You know, I think it's that important of an issue.
NAYLOR: McGovern says he'll probably vote against what he labels a bad deal. And he's certainly not alone. Across the Capitol, Vermont Independent, Bernie Sanders, said he intends to do everything in his power to, in his words, stand up for the American middle class and defeat this agreement, including a filibuster. Speaker Nancy Pelosi issued a statement in which she stopped well short of endorsing the plan, saying that discussions between the President and the Democratic caucus will continue in the days ahead. Senate majority leader Harry Reid has yet to add his endorsement to the agreement reached with Republicans, indicating he considers it a work in progress.
MCGOVERN: It's something that's not done yet. Let's make that clear. We're working through all that.
NAYLOR: It's clear Democrats hope to change the agreement, which would trim payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare, a provision they like, but also would set a five million dollar exemption for the estate tax, something many Democrats say is too high. The package is estimated to add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit over the next two years, which gives many Democrats pause. Senator Ben Nelson, of Nebraska, says it's a tough call.
BEN NELSON: The fact that it's not paid for is always going to be a matter of heartburn, but there are difficult choices you make here. And the question is whether there is a greater shock to the economy by having taxes go up or by having them not go up and adding to the debt. I think the general consensus is that the shock to the economy by having taxes go up right now is greater than adding to the debt.
NAYLOR: Republicans are generally pleased with the agreement. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell says, in his eyes, there's little left to talk about.
MITCH MCCONNELL: The agreement is essentially final. Senator Reid and I will have to discuss procedurally how we go forward. And as you know, in the Senate, that requires a pretty broad agreement as to how you go forward.
NAYLOR: The White House dispatched Vice President Biden to meet with Senate Democrats over lunch yesterday. He reportedly told them it was the best deal the administration could get with Republicans. But it has dispirited many Democrats, like Congressman Jim Moran of Virginia, who says he'll vote against it, but predicts the agreement will pass.
JIM MORAN: The easy vote is to say yes, to tax cuts and no, to spending cuts. That's what we'll continue to do and we'll continue to kick that proverbial can down the road.
NAYLOR: Brain Naylor, NPR News, the Capitol.
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