After a lengthy meeting of Senate Democrats aimed in part at hammering out a unified position on extending the Bush tax cuts, Majority Leader Harry Reid emerged without an agreement, but still calling for a vote.
"My friend [Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky] has offered some legislation to extend all them all, costing $4 trillion," the Nevada Democrat said. "If he wants a vote on that, I'll be happy to help arrange that, but he should also help arrange a vote on $250 thousand. Period."
For now, Reid is sticking with the idea of extending only the tax cuts for those making $250 thousand or less, which he seemed to recognize may not pass.
"We want to give the Republicans an opportunity to vote on McConnell's legislation. and we want opportunity and may be plural vote. We have to do it more than once, twice, whatever it takes, to show the American people that we support the middle class."
Minority Leader McConnell's legislation, introduced in September, was to permanently extend all the tax cuts. He said today, "This is the only bill that's yet been offered that would prevent a tax hike on anyone. In other words, nobody in America would get a tax hike at the end of the year."
And Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) told Fox the meeting made clear that "the votes are not there" to let tax cuts for wealthier taxpayers simply expire.
Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) proposed raising the threshold for tax cuts to $1 million from $250,000. But Reid seems intent on a voting first on extending them only at the $250 thousand level and below, saying "I could go for either a short term extension of middle income tax cuts or make it permanent."
It's not clear when Senator Reid will try to bring up the tax cuts. He and the White House want votes on many issues in the 15 or so remaining legislative days. Everything from "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" to the Dream Act, which mandates in-state tuition for the children of illegal aliens, among other things.
Democratic leaders have been struggling to figure out what to do about the tax cuts for some time. And some grumbled about a lack of direction from the White House. But after a meeting with the president at the White house this morning, one Democratic leader said President Obama will let lawmakers take the lead.
"Well, the White House is acknowledging the obvious," said Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois, a member of the Democratic leadership. "The decision is going to be made by Congress and it's going to be made during the course of negotiation."It is not clear how much negotiating room Democratic leaders have. They've been forced to repeatedly postpone votes because they faced a revolt in their own ranks. Too many Democrats in both houses sided with Republicans, saying they wanted to extend all the tax cuts, at least temporarily.
Senator Ben Nelson (D-NE) said today there are still a lot of Democrats who think all tax cuts should be extended.
But Reid seems determined to go ahead anyway, a move that brought this response from Senator McConnell: "The deadline to prevent a tax hike on every American taxpayer is January 1, and the clock is ticking."
"While some in Congress have a strange desire to raise taxes on hundreds of thousands of small businesses across the country, Republicans and a growing chorus of Democrats believe that no one should have the government take even more out of their paycheck next year," McConnell added.
So, expect several votes on extending the tax cuts just weeks before they're set to expire.