Senate GOP vows to halt action in lame-duck session until tax deal

Senate Republicans will block controversial legislation during the lame-duck Congress until a deal on tax cuts is worked out, according to a letter signed by every GOP senator. 

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Republicans said they would not agree to proceed on any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and prevent "the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers."

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) highlighted the new strategy in an interview with ABC. McConnell and other congressional leaders met with President Obama at the White House Tuesday to try to reach a deal on the tax cuts.  

"One thing I think we all agreed on at the White House is that we ought to do first things first," McConnell said in an interview with ABC News. "And what the American people want to know is, 'Are our taxes going up, and how are you going to fund the government?' Let's do those things first, and see what kind of time is left."

Asked whether that meant the Senate would have time to tackle all the other issues, like repealing "Don't ask, don't tell," passing the DREAM Act or extending unemployment benefits, McConnell said: "No, I don't think so."

The effort to repeal the military's ban on gay and lesbian service members and to pass the DREAM Act, an immigration reform bill, are seen as much less likely to advance in a GOP-held House and with a strengthened Republican minority in the Senate. 

"Anyone looking for the GOP's strategy in lame duck, here it is," said Jim Manley, the top spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), on Twitter

Democrats are facing pressure from their base to push through as many priority agenda items as possible during the lame-duck Congress. In particular, gay-rights activists are pushing for the end of the military's prohibition of gay and lesbian members of the armed forces.

But the Senate's ability to move forward on the tax issue seems dependent on the progress made by the group designated by President Obama on Tuesday to negotiate a compromise on tax cuts. That group, which includes Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Director Jack Lew, along with House and Senate representatives from both parties, is scheduled to begin its meetings at the Capitol on Wednesday.

With just weeks left to go in the lame-duck before the Christmas holiday and recess, the clock is running out on Democrats. 

The White House seems more optimistic about what can be accomplished during the lame-duck session. Press secretary Robert Gibbs said Wednesday that he believes the Senate will ratify the New START Treaty by Christmas, and said on CNN that he thinks the Senate will also handle "Don't ask, don't tell" by the end of the lame-duck.

But McConnell indicated that, if Democrats want to move forward with those other bills, then they might look to act more quickly on taxes.

"The sooner we get done what we need to do … we'll see how much time is left before the expiration of the 111th Congress," he said.

This story was updated at 10:34 a.m.