Rep. Jerry McNerney was among 20 House Democrats who crossed the aisle Thursday to oppose a bill that would extend Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class but not to the top 2 percent of wage earners.
Approved on a 234-188 vote, the bill would extend the cuts only for individuals earning $200,000 or less per year and families earning $250,000 or less -- roughly 98 percent of Americans. Senate Republicans have vowed to block it and hold out for an extension of the tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans, as well.
McNerney, D-Pleasanton, whose office said he wasn't available for an interview Thursday, issued a written statement.
"These are tough economic times and many American families are struggling to make ends meet," he said. "We need to do everything we can to get our economy back on track. Today's legislation was not the best answer given the state of our economy. There are ongoing discussions taking place about how to reach a bipartisan solution to this issue and these talks should be given an opportunity to succeed."
McNerney only recently emerged victorious from his hard-fought re-election fight; in fact, Republican challenger David Harmer has yet to concede, although local registrars' final tallies show he lost by 2,658 votes.
Liberals took to the streets across the nation Thursday to urge Democratic lawmakers and President Barack Obama not to cave on letting the cuts expire for the richest 2 percent. In the Bay Area, MoveOn.org members and other citizens rallied outside the district offices of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in San Francisco, Rep. Barbara Lee in Oakland and Rep. Pete Stark in Fremont.
David Siegel, an environmental consultant and MoveOn.org activist from Castro Valley who organized the rally at Stark's office, said he was "pretty pissed off" to hear about McNerney's vote.
"I'm bummed because I helped get him re-elected, I was part of that group that was going out to David Harmer's office," Siegel said. "I never would've thought that he would've been one of the ones.
"I don't see any good arguments for extending the tax cuts for the rich. I think that the original Bush tax cuts were a failure and the last 10 years have borne that out."
Extending the tax cuts for that top 2 percent would cost the federal government $700 billion; most Democrats say that money would better spent on something such as extending unemployment insurance benefits for about 5 million Americans who can't find work.
"To repair our economy and create jobs, we need to put money in the hands of the people most likely to spend it," Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Thursday. "This package of tax cuts gives everyone a helping hand but wisely focuses on the needs of small businesses and working and middle-class consumers: those most likely to purchase goods, drive consumer spending, and stimulate demand for new hiring."
Republicans say that taxing the rich includes taxing small businesses and so will stymie job creation, and that job creation is more important than any government spending, including unemployment benefits.
"Instead of beating around the bush, the Congress ought to act today to stop all the tax hikes, to cut spending, because it would reduce the uncertainty that is affecting employers all across our country," House Speaker-designate John Boehner, R-Ohio, said at a briefing Thursday at the Capitol. "And if the lame-duck Congress is unable or unwilling to cut spending and stop all the coming tax hikes, the new majority in January will."
As the White House has seemed to waver, liberals have voiced their ire.
The Progressive Change Campaign Committee is running a television ad hitting the president as weak in this fight, featuring his campaign promise to let the tax cuts expire for the rich, juxtaposed with Boehner's statement in September that he would vote for extending the cuts for the rest of America and not the richest if he was left no other choice. The ad, originally to run only in Washington, D.C., now is also running in Iowa, where Obama made his campaign promise in May 2007.