Senate stalls on small-business bill, Bush-era tax rate extension proposals

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) Wednesday evening attempted to move forward on a small-business bill and two competing proposals on extending the Bush-era tax rates, but he was thwarted by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).

Reid attempted to advance the Small Business Jobs and Tax Relief Act, S.2237, and another pending bill from Democrats that would extend the Bush-era tax levels for people earning less than $250,000. Part of Reid's agreement was to allow for consideration of one Republican amendment to the latter bill that would extend the lower tax rates for people earning more than $250,000.

Reid also proposed that both the Democratic bill and the Republican amendment could be passed by a simple majority.

"Let's lock in an agreement to permit a vote on the president's plan to give 98 percent of Americans certainty their taxes won't go up, and the Republican plan to raise taxes on 25 million American families," Reid said. "Democrats are ready to have those votes right away, and we'll do it with a simple majority. Then we can get back to the task at hand, cutting taxes for millions of small businesses that want to expand and put Americans back to work."

McConnell objected to Reid's unanimous consent request saying that Obama's preferred Bush-era tax rate extension had not been put in writing. He said Republicans would have to see the actual Democratic plan before they could agree to a vote on that bill.

"So we'd be happy to set up a vote on this issue ... just as soon as the majority leader produces a bill to show us what tax increases they have in mind. I want to make sure everyone understands the differences in our positions here," McConnell said.

McConnell also argued that Reid's deal required Republicans to accept a specific amendment that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has introduced to S. 2237 and said Republicans do not necessarily want to be locked into that amendment, depending on what the Democratic bill looks like.

Reid responded by saying he would be happy to let Republicans read the exact language, but he did not say when that language might be available.

Regarding S. 2237, Reid proposed moving ahead by consider two amendments to that bill. One is from Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) providing tax extenders for small businesses, and the other is a Republican-supported tax cut on small businesses. Reid then filed cloture on the bill with its amendments.

Unless Republicans agree to consider these amendments earlier, the Senate will vote Friday to end debate on the small business tax bill.

Soon after Reid and McConnell spoke, the Senate adjourned, after approving H.R. 4155, which the House approved earlier in the week. The bill instructs federal agencies to give military veterans training credit when similar training is required for federal jobs.

The Senate also approved H.R. 3001, awarding a Congressional Gold Medal to relatives of Raoul Wallenberg for his actions during the Holocaust.

The Senate returns at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

— Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this report.

— Updated at 9:26 p.m.