Vermont Congressman Peter Welch’s letter opposing Obama-GOP deal to extend Bush-era tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires has now attracted support from almost three dozen House Democrats, including committee chairs, leaders of major caucuses and key players on economic issues.

Welch’s letter is not the only vehicle for Congressional opposition to the agreement between President Obama and Republican Congressional leaders to extend tax breaks for billionaires and create a broad estate-tax exemption for millionaires. But it has become a focus of progressive organizing to block a deal that Welch has been out front in decrying as "fiscally irresponsible" and "grossly unfair."

Despite a full-court press by the White House political team (which is now trying to blame Congressional Democrats for flaws in the deal) and the Democratic National Committee to promote the deal, Adam Green of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee calculates that the number of calls to Congressional offices urging opposition to the deal now numbers in the tens of thousands.

In addition to PCCC, MoveOn, Democracy for America and Credo Action are pushing progressives to call. But Welch and other House members suggest that the opposition they’re hearing—on the phones, in e-mails and in meetings with constituents—appears to be coming from across the political spectrum. (Sarah Palin has criticized the compromise, while South Carolina Senator Jim DeMint, a leading conservative Republican, is threatening a filibuster to block the deal. This has stirred talk that DeMint and Senator Bernie Sanders, the Vermont independent who has talked about doing everything he can to block the deal, could end up mounting a right-left challenge in the upper chamber.)

The Welch letter remains the key vehicle for quantifying opposition, however.

It lays out a clear argument to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to say "no deal," with members declaring:

"We oppose acceding to Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires for two reasons.

"First, it is fiscally irresponsible. Adding $700 billion to our national debt, as this proposal would do, handcuffs our ability to offer a balanced plan to achieve fiscal stability without a punishing effect on our current commitments, including Social Security and Medicare.

"Second, it is grossly unfair. This proposal will hurt, not help, the majority of Americans in the middle class and those working hard to get there. Even as Republicans seek to add $700 billion to our national debt, they oppose extending unemployment benefits to workers and resist COLA increases to seniors.

"Without a doubt, the very same people who support this addition to our debt will oppose raising the debt ceiling to pay for it.

"We support extending tax cuts in full to 98 percent of American taxpayers, as the President initially proposed. He should not back down. Nor should we."

So far, the signers include House Judiciary Committee chair John Conyers, House Committee on Veterans Affairs chair Bob Filner, Congressional Black Caucus chair Barbara Lee, Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison and Jim McDermott, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee who has been the Democratic point-man on extension of unemployment benefits.

McDermott and Oregon Congressman Pete DeFazio, another leading Democratic player on economic issues (particularly infrastructure investment), are working to force a vote within the House Democratic Caucus on whether to advance the deal. They argue that, if the caucus opposes the deal, Pelosi should not bring it to the floor for a vote.

"There does not seem to be a majority of the Democrats who support the deal…," says DeFazio. "So we want to have a record vote in the caucus on a resolution that says this resolution should not go to the floor without a majority of Democratic votes."

Pelosi is clearly listening. She has ramped up her criticism of the deal, focusing in particular on concerns regarding the estate-tax exemption for families with up to $10 million.

The members who have signed the Welch letter to Pelosi, as of mid-day Wednesday, include:

Judy Chu (California)
Yvette Clarke (New York)
Stephen Cohen (Tennessee)
John Conyers (Michigan)
Peter DeFazio (Oregon)
William Delahunt (Massachusetts)
Donna Edwards (Maryland)
Keith Ellison (Minnesota)
Anna Eshoo (California)
Sam Farr (California)
Bob Filner (California)
John Garamendi (California)
Raul Grijalva (Arizona)
Luis Gutierrez (Illinois)
Alcee Hastings (Florida)
Martin Heinrich (New Mexico)
Jay Inslee (Washington)
Jesse Jackson (Illinois)
Dennis Kucinich (Ohio)
Barbara Lee (California)
Ben Ray Lujan (New Mexico)
Stephen Lynch (Massachusetts)
Jim McDermott (Washington)
Michael Michaud (Maine)
James Oberstar (Minnesota)
Chellie Pingree (Maine)
David Price (North Carolina)
Timothy Ryan (Ohio)
Carol Shea-Porter (New Hampshire)
Pete Stark (California)
Betty Sutton (Ohio)
Paul Tonko (New York)
Peter Welch (Vermont)
David Wu (Oregon)

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