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House Democrat leadership in melt down; unity dissolves

Washington - Democrats are deserting their leadership in increasing numbers on a myriad of legislation proposals, often joining Republicans in rebuffing the White House.

Their political chaos is a far cry from the plank-walking unity Democrats showed in voting for Obamacare in 2010. Friday, minority leader Nancy Pelosi can't even count on her anti-big business troops to shoot down a straight-up Republican tax cut.

While Pres. Obama's energy speech at a Wal-Mart location brought jeers from the anti-business wing of his party, Pelosi is fuming after 62 House Democrats broke rank and voted with Republicans to permanently extend a tax cut encouraging companies to invest in research and development.

House Democrats seem to be deserting Mr. Obama in larger numbers than their Senate counterparts. The Obama administration and House Democratic leaders condemned the Republican bill saying it does not offset the cost of tax credits.

Nevertheless, despite the president’s threat of veto, a Democratic Party in disarray stampeded in the opposite direction from Pennsylvania Avenue on the measure.

The mass defection of Democrats from their leadership revealed increasing chaos within the Democratic Party as midterm elections loom. The troubling congressional split occurred immediately after a private meeting where Pelosi of California, Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland, Assistant Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina and Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen of Maryland scolded rank-and-file Dems who planned to vote with Republicans.

Democrat leaders argued voting “yes,” would set a precedent for more permanent business tax breaks that Republicans plan to bring to the floor without offsets. Pelosi warned to no avail that budget cuts from Democratic priorities would be used to offset the tax breaks.

Nevertheless, a platoon of House Democrats for all intents and purposes thumbed their collective nose at Pelosi and voted with Republicans. Particularly troubling for Democrats, the 62 members who voted “yes” span the caucus’ political spectrum from moderates to hard-liners.

The Democratic leadership’s response to the House uprising was harsh. “This totally undermines any claim of fiscal rectitude. … It is such a fraud,” Hoyer told CQ Roll Call after the meeting. “I talked to some members … who said, ‘Well I’m for the R&D tax credit.’ Well I’m for it too, but I’m for fiscal responsibility.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Obama’s speech at a Wal-Mart store enraged top Democratic politicos like former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich, and rank-and-file party loyalists alike.

"Wal-Mart is one of the nation's largest and worst employers – low wages, unreliable hours, few benefits, discrimination against women, and anti-union," said Reich in a Facebook posting.

For her part, Pam Ramos, who has worked at Mountain View, Calif., Walmart for four years, seemed disillusioned by the president’s visit to her company. "When I heard President Obama was visiting my store, I wanted to tell him what income inequality really looks like – right here working at a company that made $17 billion last year."

With national polls showing Democrats may lose control of the Senate while gaining few or no seats in the House, Mr. Obama’s poll numbers have also hit new lows, adding to Democrats’ concern.

While a few Democrat Senate candidates are appearing with Mr. Obama on the campaign trail, most are opting to distance themselves from the top Democrat.

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