With Senate Republicans accusing their chamber's top Democrat for days of not focusing on the problem at hand, the nation's soaring debt, Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada on Tuesday set aside a measure related to the current military mission in Libya that was to be the subject of this week's floor debate, in favor of a nonbinding bill related to deficit reduction and tax increases.
Shortly before Reid's announcement, Budget Committee Ranking Republican Jeff Sessions pleaded with colleagues to reject the Libya measure, saying, "Regardless of how one feels about the Libya resolution, that's not what we need to be doing this week."
The Reid move gave Republicans the topic they wanted, if not the legislation.
Accusing Republicans of wanting "to protect oil companies, yacht owners, millionaires, and billionaires from paying their fair share," Reid introduced legislation calling for a tax hike on millionaires. It's a move previously rejected by the Senate in a bipartisan vote, but it strikes at the heart of the disagreement now over whether and how to raise the nation's $14.3 trillion debt ceiling, whether increased revenue can be part of any solution.
Republicans say no way. Most Democrats have said it's a requirement.
Demanding "shared sacrifice," the Reid measure says, " It is the sense of the Senate that any agreement to reduce the budget deficit should require that those earning $1,000,000 or more per year make a more meaningful contribution to the deficit reduction effort."
As Republicans are not likely to change their tune on taxes, insisting that any negotiated compromise on a debt ceiling increase be free of tax hikes, the Reid measure was likely to present yet another symbolic fight over priorities.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, certainly seemed to show no movement toward accepting new revenue measures. In a floor speech earlier Tuesday, the Kentucky Republican said, "In the middle of a jobs crisis, they want to raise taxes that we know will kill even more jobs when even the president has said raising taxes would leave job creators with less ability to hire. These are their solutions. This is what the president came off the campaign trail to defend last Thursday. And this is what Republicans oppose. Our view is that the way you solve a debt crisis is to go on a diet, not a shopping spree."
It is unclear if Republicans will present an alternative to the Reid measure or a series of amendments.
It is also unclear when the Senate will vote on the Reid "Millionaires Tax" resolution. It all depends on how cooperative Republicans are willing to be. If they do not agree to take up the Reid measure, then the earliest the Senate can vote will be Thursday.
Reid canceled the week-long Fourth of July recess in order to work on the debt crisis. He has scheduled a series of related meetings this week, but if members do not actually place substantive votes until Thursday, there are going to be some seriously unhappy lawmakers in Washington this week.