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House votes to keep tax cut for 'middle class' only. Republicans fume.

The House approved a measure to extend the Bush-era tax cuts to the middle class – those with income less than $250,000. The final tax-cut plan, though, will be fashioned in the Senate.

By Staff writer / December 2, 2010

House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, speaks at a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Dec. 2.

Harry Hamburg/AP

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Just three days after the White House established a bipartisan team to find a compromise on renewing the Bush-era tax cuts, House Democrats pushed through a measure that extended the cuts only to the "middle class" – households with annual income less than $250,000.

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It was a toxic vote for Republicans, who are holding out to extend the Bush tax cuts to high-earners as well, at least temporarily. To defeat the $250,000 cap, House Republicans had to vote against extending taxes for the vast majority of American taxpayers – a vote that could come back to haunt them in opposition campaign ads.

Republican leader John Boehner of Ohio dubbed the move “chicken crap” and “nonsense.” “We're 23 months from the next election, and the political games have already started, trying to set up the next election,” he said.

In the end, all but three Republicans voted against the bill – and the GOP picked up some Democratic support for its position as the House leaders struggled to hold their caucus together. Thirty-three Democrats joined all Republicans in opposing a procedural vote to get to this bill, and 20 voted against the bill in the final vote. The measure passed 234-188. The real work on the tax-cut legislation will be done in the Senate.

Democratic Rep. Gerald Connolly of Virginia, who last month survived a tough reelection bid against a tea party-backed GOP rival, says he would have voted to extend tax breaks to all income levels because a tax increase in hard economic times will hurt job creation. “Why would we want to do that? It will hurt the very people we want to protect,” he said before Thursday’s vote. “There is opportunity for some common ground here, but unfortunately we’re dealing with immovable objects here – ideology in their party and in ours.”

By pushing through the measure, Democratic congressional leaders also sent a message to President Obama. He has been widely criticized in House Democratic ranks for ceding too much ground to Republicans, most recently when he volunteered to freeze nonmilitary government salaries in advance of Monday’s White House meeting with congressional leaders.

“House Democrats are taking a very different negotiating strategy than President Obama,” says Julian Zelizer, a congressional historian at Princeton University in New Jersey. “They are starting with what they want before negotiating with Republicans. President Obama tends to give things away before he negotiates.”

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