Yes, the majority of House Democrats voted against the tax deal on Thursday, but 77 of them voted yes the day after House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi called the bill "practically an immorality."
But for many Democrats, it appears voting against a bill that permanently locks in expanded tax benefits for working families would have been immoral.
Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., said he was having dinner Wednesday with a member explaining his opposition to the tax extenders bill when a waiter pointed out that his children get an earned income tax credit.
Larson tells the story: "So I said to one of the guys, 'Explain to him why his children shouldn't get this tax credit.' They go, 'No we're going to get it in the CR if we do this.' And the [waiter] just picks up his glasses and walks away."
"That's what people hate about us," Larson said. "I think people want to see something done."
Pelosi Slams 'Immoral' Tax Breaks
Larson was just one of five Ways and Means Democrats to vote for the package. The other four were Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, Joseph Crowley of New York, who is vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus, Richard E. Neal of Massachusetts and Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey.
Earlier this year, the 15 Democratic tax-writers stood united in their opposition to bills the Ways and Means Committee passed to make some select extenders permanent, arguing that while many of the provisions enjoyed bipartisan support, the cost of making them permanent without offsets was just too high.
"We did so with the idea that we would use this as leverage for negotiations," Larson said. "Well, they negotiated. They negotiated to the best that they could, and then you have to be left to your own devices to decide what's in this bill and how will benefit me and my district."
Blumenauer said that since most of the extenders have been routinely renewed on a temporary basis without being paid for, it's not easy for Democrats to use the cost as an excuse for not making them permanent.
“It’s harder and harder" to stand on that argument, he said. "There are times when we’ve held out and tried to make it difficult but this is a package that is much more balanced than they rifle-shot through Ways and Means.”
The main win Democrats secured in the deal was permanent extensions of the 2009 stimulus credits — expansions of the earned income and child tax credits and the American Opportunity Tax Credit for higher education expenses. Those incentives were not scheduled to expire until the end of 2017, while most of the other extenders had expired at the end of 2014.
"If those are out there alone, there will be a huge price to pay to try and get it," Blumenauer said, "because this is not a priority of my Republican friends.”
The tax deal not only divided Democratic tax-writers, it split some of the main Democratic groups.
For example, the $622 billion package drew support from nine of the 15 fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats.
Leaders of the New Democrats Coalition issued a statement opposing the bill, saying, "The impact this package will have on the tax base and U.S. deficit in the long run will prove extremely harmful."
But the New Democrats co-chair Gerald E. Connolly of Virginia did not sign onto the statement. He voted for the tax package, along with half of the coalition's members.
At least a dozen member of the Progressive Caucus also voted yes, despite their leaders' opposition.
Other Democrats supporting the bill included all but one of 19 Democrats the National Republican Congressional Committee has identified as vulnerable in 2016. The one who voted against it was Democratic Policy and Communications Committee Chairman Steve Israel of New York, which is not surprising given his position in leadership.
Larson said the level of Democratic support for the measure was far beyond what leadership was predicting. "They didn't suspect that that many Democrats would go for it."
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