Substantively, Democrats have called for a number of changes, from the very big but probably unrealistic–getting rid of the breaks for big earners–to the more manageable, like continuing construction bonds. Several members said House Democrats would push for a less charitable estate tax. (Mr. Nadler said it was unlikely Democrats would win enough concessions to earn his vote on the bill.)
Politically, the party has raised a ruckus that the White House negotiated the deal without them. Last week, members voted unanimously to oppose the deal, in a rowdy caucus meeting at the Capitol that was heard by reporters in the hallways.
“No one was at this negotiating table,” said Mr. Weiner, who, in his many television appearances, suggested that the president was acting too much like a “negotiator in chief,” and not enough like the “leader of our party.”
Those strong words drew concern from Mr. Sharpton, who suggested on Thursday that Democrats were airing a “a self-defeating kind of family feud that can only help the other side while unemployed people suffer.”
But Mr. Weiner defended his criticism. “This idea of near papal infallibility, that because the president said that it’s a compromise, doesn’t mean it’s a good one,” he told The Observer. “I think that I am doing my job, and frankly it’s the entire Democratic caucus; it’s not just one undernourished Jewish congressmen from New York saying this.”
Some of the less vocal members of the delegation have expressed support for their more outspoken colleagues.
“For many of them, I think it’s really a strategy they hope will strengthen the president’s ability to go back and negotiate further,” said Congresswoman Yvette Clarke. “I think being blindsided in the House by ultimately what was going to come from the negotiations with the Republicans did not help. But from our conversations in the Democratic caucus, we really want to strengthen the president’s hand and ability to negotiate what we all think will be a fair tax bill.”
But Mr. Obama has, at least publicly, expressed little interest in pushing for a more Democratic deal. At a press conference last week, he dismissed the liberal objections as “the public-option fight all over again.” The White House communications director, Dan Pfeiffer, subsequently told Politico that the president was not spoiling for a fight with Democrats, but merely “responding to several very loud voices from the left who said we should fight even if people’s taxes go up.”
And rather than appeal to the American people for a more left-leaning compromise–as Mr. Weiner has been urging–Mr. Obama has been politicking for his own plan. On Monday, he sat for interviews with television stations in Columbus, Denver, Des Moines and Tampa to make a more targeted case for the deal.
And it appears to be working. On Monday, two polls showed broad support for the deal, even among Democrats–a majority of whom opposed the tax breaks for the top earners.
The White House has firmly rejected the notion that it is “triangulating,” but to some veterans of the Clinton years, it looks awfully familiar.
“There’s no doubt about it in my mind,” said Congressman Eliot Engel, who is still weighing whether to support the compromise.
“I think we lost in large measure in ’94 because people weren’t happy with Clinton, and then he got reelected, and the irony was that we were in the minority for 12 years,” Mr. Engel said. “And 2012 could be ’96. So I think we have a slightly different vantage point than the White House.”
But Mr. Engel said they all shared the same goals of restoring the economy and reelecting the president.
“I don’t think any of us has any stake in destroying this presidency–quite the opposite. We want to see this presidency succeed. But I think we have to be careful. You don’t want to go out of the frying pan and into the fire.”
He said the long-term risk was in dispiriting the Democratic base and making it possible for a Republican to win.
“I think people need to be careful,” he said. “But I think the White House also needs to be careful, because they can’t keep taking people for granted.”