By Alexander Bolton - 12/03/10 03:34 AM EST
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) plans to schedule two votes on Saturday on Democratic plans to end Bush-era tax breaks for the nation’s highest income earners.
One plan sponsored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) would extend current tax rates only for families that earn less than $250,000. The second plan offered by Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) would extend tax rates only for families that earn less than $1 million.
“Our priorities are very, very simple and direct,” Reid told reporters Thursday night. “One, we want to make sure the American people know we believe that tax cuts should be extended for people making less than $250,000 a year.
“And just to make sure the American people understand that we do not support giving tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, we’re going to have a second vote on that,” Reid added.
Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) said Democrats were getting tired of talking about taxes and itching to act.
“There was a general sentiment, enough with the talking, let’s get after it,” he said, after Senate Democrats held their second meeting of the day late Thursday evening.
Both Democratic tax proposals are expected to fall short of the 60 votes needed to quash GOP filibusters. It's unclear, however, how many Republicans will show up to vote. They only need one representative present in the chamber to filibuster legislation.
The floor votes would happen before consideration of a deal that Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House budget director Jack Lew have been working to reach with congressional negotiators.
The negotiators have put together the outlines of a deal that would extend all of the Bush tax cuts for two years and extend federal unemployment benefits for a year, according to congressional sources. Democrats are also pushing for an extension of the Make Work Pay and college-tuition tax credits that were part of the 2009 economic stimulus package.
But Republicans have balked at the cost of the Make Work Pay and the college-tuition tax credits, which would cost an estimated $62 billion and $8 billion to extend for one year, according to GOP sources.
Nothing is final yet.
Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), who is representing Senate Republicans in talks with the administration, downplayed talk of a deal — as did the White House.
“If there is [a deal], I’m not aware of it,” Kyl said.
“Any reports that we are near a deal in the tax cuts negotiations are inaccurate and premature,” the White House said in a statement Thursday afternoon.
The Senate agreed by unanimous consent late Thursday to keep the government funded for two more weeks, giving negotiators more time to work out a deal.
Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had reached a tentative teal to hold votes on four other tax proposals on Friday.
The initial plan was to vote on the extension of tax rates for families earning under $250,000 and the extension of rates for those making less than $1 million — the Baucus and Schumer proposals. Under the tentative agreement, Republicans would have gotten to vote on a permanent extension of all of the Bush tax cuts and a five-year extension of all the tax rates.
That deal, however, fell apart late Thursday evening after an anonymous Republican senator objected to a request for unanimous consent, forcing the Saturday votes.
A surprised Reid walked from the chamber into McConnell’s office to salvage the deal but McConnell had slipped out of the Capitol a few minutes before, strolling past a crowd of reporters.
Reid ate several chocolates in McConnell’s reception area while waiting for GOP aides to contact the leader, according to reporters who witnessed it.
The snafu could delay any deal that Geithner and Lew reach with congressional negotiators, which include Kyl, Baucus, Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
Democratic senators want a chance to vote on extending tax cuts for middle-class families before considering a temporary extension of all of the Bush tax cuts. They believe it’s important to put themselves and Republican senators on the record with official votes.
McConnell has pledged that “100 percent” of the Senate Republican conference would oppose any tax legislation that extended rates for the vast majority of families but not the nation’s wealthiest. Republicans argue that raising taxes on families earning more than $250,000 or even $1 million would put a tax burden on small businesses.
Considering the Democratic tax proposals over the weekend would clear the way for the Senate to take up at the beginning of next week any final deal that emerges from Geithner, Lew, and other negotiators.
Kyl said the administration and congressional negotiators would need to agree to a deal on tax cuts by early next week to give the Senate time to take up the New START nuclear treaty, which is a high priority of President Obama.
Republican lawmakers say they want at least a week to consider the treaty.
White House press secretary Robert Gibbs predicted Wednesday the treaty would be ratified before Christmas.
Some Democratic senators, however, pledged they would oppose a deal that extended all of the Bush-era tax cuts, even temporarily.
“I am opposed to extending any tax breaks for anybody over $250,000, period. That’s where I am,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “I would hope that the president would stand firm on what he campaigned on in Iowa.
“The public is on our side on this, there’s no doubt about that,” he said. “If [Republicans] want to keep us here, I think we should stay here until Christmas Eve, Christmas Day.”