More Senate Dems cast doubt on pre-election vote to extend tax cuts

A growing number of Senate Democrats say that there should not be a vote on extending the Bush tax cuts before Election Day.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) expressed doubt that Democrats could even muster the 60 votes necessary to pass Obama’s tax plan, given unified GOP opposition.

“I’m not into exercises that are futile and Pyrrhic,” he said.

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Democrats met privately at 1 p.m. Thursday to discuss whether votes on extending the tax cuts passed under President George W. Bush should happen before or after Election Day.  

Some Democrats fear Republicans will “manipulate” the issue to accuse Democrats of raising taxes, even though the pending Democratic proposal would extend low tax rates for all families earning less than $250,000 a year.

The growing trepidation about having a showdown with Republicans over taxes a few weeks before the midterm election has led senior lawmakers to predict that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will punt the issue into a December lame duck session.

“Everybody believes we’ll extend the tax cuts but the question is for whom and when we will extend them,” said Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.), chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee. “My own estimate is that it will probably happen after the election in the lame duck in December.”

Sen. Tom Harkin, a senior Democrat from Iowa, predicted: “There won’t be any tax votes” before the election.

House Democratic leaders are divided over whether to hold a vote before the midterms, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) arguing in favor, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) opposed.

Asked about the decreasingly likelihood that the Senate would act, Hoyer cast doubt on the chances the House would vote anyway, though he stopped short of ruling it out entirely.

He reiterated his position that the House should wait to see what the Senate would do and said Democrats’ support for extending the tax cuts for the middle class was “crystal clear.”

“We don’t need to have a vote to let the American public know where we stand,” Hoyer told reporters.

Earlier, Hoyer said Democrats were “absolutely committed” to preventing a middle class tax hike before the end of the year, “whether we do it today or we do it six weeks from today.”

The House-Senate tension has become a significant factor in the deliberations over the timing of a tax cut vote. The chairman of the House Democratic caucus, Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.), said the Senate’s stagnant pace “infuriates members of the House.”

Still, House aides cautioned that no final decision had been made. While Hoyer is against a House vote before the election if the Senate doesn’t act, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has pushed her caucus to hold a symbolic vote regardless.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), an influential voice within the Democratic conference, warned that if Democrats voted to allow taxes to increase on families earning more than $250,000, it would give their opponents political ammunition. She wants to extend tax cuts for all taxpayers.

“My own view is that it should not be done before an election, it should be done after the election,” said Feinstein.

She said a vote for President Obama’s plan to extend the Bush-era tax cuts only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and families earning less than $250,000 would be “subject to manipulation.”

She said public focus would focus on the 1 to 2 percent of families that faced tax increases.

Russell Berman contributed to this report.