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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.

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“It’s not just political theater," he adds. Democrats are "trying something different than we’ve seen over the last two years, which is to stand firm before the negotiations."

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The White House applauded the House vote, but in a statement press secretary Robert Gibbs gave a reality check. "Because Republicans have made it clear that they won’t pass a middle class extension without also extending tax cuts for the wealthy, the President has asked [OMB] Director [Jacob] Lew and [Treasury] Secretary [Timothy] Geithner to work with Congress to find a way forward. ...The talks are ongoing and productive, but any reports that we are near a deal in the tax cuts negotiations are inaccurate and premature.”

Thursday's vote did little to engender the spirit of bipartisanship, as Republicans complained bitterly about Democrats' determination to bring the bill to the floor. “It’s to put us in a box,” said Rep. Paul Ryan (R) of Wisconsin, incoming chairman of the House Budget Committee, at a Monitor breakfast on Thursday. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky called it “a purely political exercise.”

Rep. Dave Camp (R) of Michigan, one of four congressional representatives working with the White House on a compromise deal, called the vote irresponsible. “Their position is so precarious they wouldn’t even allow Republicans to offer amendments or any alternative,” he said in a statement. “Why? Because Democrats know the Republican bill to extend the current tax rates for all taxpayers would pass with broad bipartisan support.”

House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland said on the floor that the bill, in fact, does represent common ground. “My suspicion is that almost everybody wants to make sure that the first $250,000 of income of every American is not subject to a tax increase on January 1,” he said.

He also reminded the House that Thursday's vote is not the end of the process. It goes on to the Senate, where it could be used as the legislative vehicle for whatever compromise emerges from ongoing negotiations. (All revenue bills have to start in the House.)

“I frankly want to say this is not the final package," he said. “This is a vehicle that can be used by the other body to effect consensus policy. Let us not hold hostage that to which we agree for that to which we do not agree.”

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