Berkley a lonely voice on tax cut bill


WASHINGTON -- When House Democrats met behind closed doors on Thursday and took a voice vote on President Barack Obama's tax deal, it was decidedly lopsided against the agreement.

Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said one person voted to support Obama, "and I was the vote."

With most Democrats angry and frustrated over the agreement Obama struck with Republicans to extend tax cuts to the rich as well as middle-income earners, Berkley has been a lonely voice in defense of the president.

She spoke up for the deal in another meeting of House Democrats on Tuesday night and was not received graciously, according to an account in Politico that said Reps. Dutch Ruppersberger of Maryland and Hank Johnson of Georgia were consoling her afterward.

Among other Nevada House members, Republican Rep. Dean Heller said he is leaning toward voting for the deal. While unhappy with it, Democratic Rep. Dina Titus has said she will probably vote for it.

Berkley said she accepts that Obama's deal is the one on the table, and that it has enough positive parts, including an extension of reduced income tax rates for two years, unemployment benefits through 2011 and a suite of family-targeted tax breaks.

"The president has already made his agreement and signed off on it," she said. "As I said, I am not playing Russian roulette with the lives of the people I represent to send a signal to the White House or to make a point."

Berkley confirmed the package contains a two-year extension of the deduction for state and local sales taxes, a benefit popular in Nevada and the handful of other states that have no income tax.

She also cited renewals of the earned income tax credit, the fix for the so-called marriage penalty and the alternative minimum tax, and credits for child care.

"How many tens of thousands of single women I represent that are dealers and cocktail waitresses and showgirls and keno runners and waitresses and change girls?" she said. "Without that child care tax credit they might as well stop working."

The Obama-GOP agreement also contains an adjustment to the estate tax similar to a bill Berkley had sponsored. It would impose a tax of 35 percent on inheritances after exempting the first $5 million of value, $10 million for couples.

Many Democrats have argued that is too generous to wealthy estates.

Berkley, who sits on the House Ways and Means Committee, acknowledged the opposition "is pretty huge," but those numbers were necessary to get Republican support and create certainty for estate planning.

"I would like to put this issue to bed," she said. "We take the argument from the Republicans on small business. If you have $10 million to give to your family, you don't worry about small businesses and farms going under."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760.

 

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