Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Thursday said a procedural vote on the so-called tax extenders bill would occur later today, and he called on Republicans to support the measure.
"It's a choice," he said. "Those who want to help middle-class Americans will vote yes; those who want to protect Corporate America from doing their fair share will vote no."
"I hope those folks show up this afternoon," he said. "We don't have commitments to start with, but we're hoping for the best."
If the legislation fails to advance, Reid will turn to the small business jobs bill being created by the Senate Small Business Committee and the Senate Finance Committee. The measure is expected to be ready Friday for debate.
The Senate has been working on the tax extenders bill for two months, but has been unable to get legislation past the finish line.
Reid said no extender provisions will be added to the small business bill. That means compensation to Indian landowners and black farmers, as well as extensions to unemployment insurance and the doc fix remain in limbo.
"I want to keep this [extender] package together," Reid said. "It's a good package."
Still, sources have told The Hill talks are already underway to move at least some of the extender provisions to the small business bill.
The failure by Democratic senators to pass an extender package could
be a huge political blow for the party. The package includes several
popular tax breaks, aid to states and an extension of unemployment
relief. It also delays a cut in Medicare payments to doctors that
enables these physicians to keep treating Medicare patients.
The failure would also illustrate the extent to which fears about the deficit are now dominating the legislative process. Republicans have objected to the tax extenders bill because the package would add to the deficit since not all of its spending provisions are offset with other spending cuts or tax increases.
The small business bill will probably be open to amendment. Reid said he believes Republicans will try to add an estate tax fix to the legislation.
"I wouldn't be surprised to see them offer an amendment that takes care of 0.03 percent of the people in our country," he said.
He noted the juxtaposition of Republicans offering an amendment that mostly benefits wealthier taxpayers while opposing the extender bill that helps jobless middle-class workers.
"It appears my friends on the other side of the aisle are more interested in taking care of very rich people and taking care of business people than small business people and working men and women in this country," he said.
Republicans have opposed the extender bill largely because its cost is not fully offset and would add to the deficit.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that position lacks reason because extensions to unemployment insurance have routinely happened without offsets.
"This entire proposal is paid for except for unemployment insurance, which in a bipartisan way has always passed unpaid-for through the decades," he said. "But everything is paid for, so [their argument that the bill adds to the deficit] is no longer an excuse for them. And why are they doing this, it's beyond us."