According to a senior Democratic aide, the House of Representatives is likely to pass the Obama administration's massive tax cut bill next week, provided the estate tax provision is tightened and other changes are made.
"Many House Democrats may still oppose the final bill," the aide told Reuters, noting that the legislation will require the support of most Republicans to pass.
According to Reuters, a majority of Democrats were in favor of a $3.5 million exemption from the estate tax, with a 45% tax rate above that figure, and are "fuming" that the Obama administration gave in to Republican demands for $5 million and 35%.
CBS reported on Friday that 54 House Democrats say they will not support the bill in its current form. "What unfettered greed on their part, to do something that benefits a very, very, very few," Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) told CBS.
"If it's 'take it or leave it,' we'll leave it," Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-TX) commented after a closed-door meeting during which Democrats chanted, "Just say no."
President Obama, however, predicted in an interview with NPR on Friday that the legislation will pass because "nobody -- Democrat or Republican -- wants to see people's paychecks smaller on Jan. 1 because Congress didn't act."
"We’ve got, basically, a very simple choice," the president insisted. "Either I allow two million people who are currently getting unemployment insurance not to get it -- or we make a compromise now, understanding that for the next two years this is going to be a central battle as part of a larger discussion."
But although Obama may be thinking in terms of cutting "the programs we don’t need, that don’t contribute to growth, don’t contribute to competitiveness," a new poll indicates that a majority of Americans would prefer to raise taxes on the wealthy rather than cutting current spending.
According to a Bloomberg National Poll taken on December 4-7, "The public wants Congress to keep its hands off entitlements such as Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security. ... They oppose cuts in most other major domestic programs and defense. They want to maintain subsidies for farmers and tax breaks like the mortgage-interest deduction. And they’re against an increase in the gasoline tax."
The poll further reveals that the number of Americans who describe the deficit as "dangerously out of control" has dropped from 53% to 48% since October, and out of a list of possible ways to balance the budget, none of the proposed spending cuts gained majority approval. Instead, 60% wanted to end tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans and 70% favored a tax on Wall Street profits.
Even among Republicans, only 50% wanted to retain tax cuts for the wealthy, while 47% were opposed. Overall, 82% of responders were opposed to any cuts in Medicare and 72% were against cutting the Medicaid program for the poor.
There was also strong support for raising the cap on wages subject to the Social Security tax -- with those earning over $100,000 being significantly more supportive than those making under $25,000. And although 2/3 of Americans would be willing to see means-testing for Social Security benefits, only about a third support either raising the retirement age or reducing cost-of-living increases.
Tea Party supporters were the only group which tended to favor major changes in entitlement programs, but only by narrow majorities or pluralities.