Senate Democrats remain divided on how to move forward on extension of the 2001 and 2003 Bush-era tax cuts, and some are pointing the finger of blame at the White House, frustrated at what they see is a lack of guidance or ambiguous guidance coming from the president and his top aides.From a post-election news conference to a "60 Minutes" interview to comments from senior White House adviser David Axelrod, Democrats are scratching their heads trying to figure out what the leader of their party really wants them to do.
"The players on the field want a game plan," said one senior Democratic congressional aide who requested anonymity to be candid about caucus sentiment. "There's an increasing frustration from members that there is not a plan...There is just tremendous frustration. I mean, where are they?"
The aide noted that Senate Democrats, meeting behind closed doors Wednesday and most likely Thursday, intend to discuss the tax cuts, but there is one notable absence.
"Where is the White House? There's no one here talking to us today or tomorrow," the aide fumed, noting that former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel would have been here. "Geithner says it's quote quite likely that we'll get this done. That sounds nice, I could say that, too, but what do they want done?"
Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, at The Wall Street Journal's CEO Council on Tuesday, said, "I think it's very important Congress act on this before they leave town," calling it irresponsible for members to leave "with that kind of uncertainty hanging over the economy." Senators seem to be circling around a compromise that would extend the tax cuts for either one or three years, but the caucus is nowhere near united, and the tenor from their House counterparts is growing more strident, favoring a middle-class-tax-cuts-only approach.
Democrats are waiting for an express statement from the President, despite the fact that Obama opened the window on a temporary extension just after the midterm elections.
"We should have done this already. Our bosses go home and are hounded about this. I don't get it. Just extend the cuts for a few years and be done with it. There are way too many fingers in the wind on this from both sides (of the aisle)," another senior Democratic aide involved in tax policy for years told Fox.
Both aides said the concerns in the caucus are growing and were aggravated when a bipartisan, bicameral Congressional leadership meeting at the White House scheduled for Thursday was postponed until the end of November, though the scheduling conflict was with GOP leaders.
No bill has yet been written that would make temporary extensions, according to sources, and some aides are talking more about trying to extend the top tax rates for short time, one or three years, and the rest for longer, possibly even permanently.
That offer sits well with some Democrats who opposed the president's earlier position that only the cuts for those couples making more than $250,000 be extended.
"If it's a question of how long they're extended, that's fine. I just don't want to see anyone get a tax hike right now," Sen Ben Nelson, D-Neb, told reporters Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Senate Republicans continue to show a willingness to extend the tax cuts over a short term, though Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, poised to take the top GOP position on the Finance Committee, said those cuts must all be extended temporarily else his party would surely object.
Hatch also said, "I don't think a one year (extension) is that viable. Two (years) is better, and three would be better than two."
But some Democrats oppose even a temporary extension.
"The economy has been very good for the well-to-do. Restoring tax increases for that group is essential," said Sen Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif, adding that Democrats could benefit politically if Republicans dig in on an extension of the top rates, torpedoing anything short of that.
"If it goes out, it comes back for everybody, and then that's the opposition's doing," Feinstein said, referring to the tax cuts expiring on December 31.