By Alexander Bolton - 12/08/10 07:29 PM EST
Leading members of the Senate Democratic conference predict the tax deal struck between President Obama and GOP leaders will pass the Senate, making the House the main battleground.
As of midday Wednesday, only two on the left had said they would vote against the tax package: Sen. Bernie SandersBernie SandersAnti-trade senators say chamber would be crazy to pass TPP Vulnerable NH Republican ties reelection bid to Trump Overnight Finance: Congress poised to avoid shutdown | Yellen defends Fed from Trump | Why Obama needs PhRMA on trade MORE (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Sen. Mark UdallMark UdallColorado GOP Senate race to unseat Dem incumbent is wide open Energy issues roil race for Senate Unable to ban Internet gambling, lawmakers try for moratorium MORE (D-Colo.). Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick LeahyOvernight Tech: TV box plan faces crucial vote | Trump transition team to meet tech groups | Growing scrutiny of Yahoo security Leahy wants Judiciary hearing on Yahoo Overnight Cybersecurity: FBI probes possible hack of Dems' phones | Trump's '400-pound hacker' | Pressure builds on Yahoo | Poll trolls run wild MORE (D-Vt.) has also strongly criticized the deal "wrong for most Vermonters" and "wrong for our country."
“I was inclined to vote no but it’s still a work in progress,” said Harkin. “Let’s see what happens, things are happening.”
Harkin would like to see unemployment benefits extended for two years instead of 13 months, as Obama and GOP leaders have agreed. Harkin said the extension of unemployment benefits should mirror the two-year extension of tax cuts for the nation’s wealthiest individuals and families.
He said he was strongly opposed to setting the estate tax at 35 percent for inheritances over $5 million but doubts it would be possible to renegotiate that part of the deal.
Harkin said the package “probably will” pass the Senate.
But it will likely face a tougher fight in the House.
Liberal Democrats in the House have mobilized to defeat the tax deal, which has received strong criticism from progressive advocacy groups and unions.
Thirty-four House Democrats have signed a letter circulated by Rep. Peter WelchPeter WelchEpiPen investigation shows need for greater pricing transparency, other reforms Dem lawmakers: Clinton should have disclosed illness sooner Former Clinton adviser unsure of security protections on server MORE (D-Vt.) stating their strong opposition to the deal.
“We oppose acceding to Republican demands to extend the Bush tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires for two reasons,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter addressed to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
They said the deal is “fiscally irresponsible” because it adds “$700 billion to our national debt” and is unfair because it helps wealthy families at the expense of the middle class.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who is representing House Democrats in tax talks with senior administration officials and Senate negotiators, has voiced serious reservations about the deal.
In the Senate, by contrast, political momentum has begun to build for Obama’s tax deal. About a dozen Senate Democrats have praised the package or pledged their support.
"I commend President Obama for his leadership in forging this agreement,” said Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) in a press release. “The framework agreement for tax cuts and extended unemployment insurance shows great promise in reinvigorating our economy and putting people back to work. The proposal is the ultimate stimulus plan.”
Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has called the deal “the best that could have been done” and said “it will be good for our economy.”
Democratic Sens. Evan Bayh (Ind.), Bill NelsonBill NelsonElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Finance: Senate rejects funding bill as shutdown looms | Labor Dept. to probe Wells Fargo | Fed to ease stress test rules for small banks Overnight Energy: Judges scrutinize Obama climate rule MORE (Fla.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Max BaucusMax BaucusChina moves to lift ban on US beef Overnight Healthcare: Zika fight stalls government funding talks | Census finds big drop in uninsured | Mental health bill faces wait Glover Park Group now lobbying for Lyft MORE (Mont.) and Tom CarperTom CarperElection-year politics: Senate Dems shun GOP vulnerables Overnight Healthcare: McConnell unveils new Zika package | Manchin defends daughter on EpiPens | Bill includes M for opioid crisis Dems to GOP: Help us fix ObamaCare MORE (Del.) have also spoken favorably of the deal.
Senate Budget Committee Chairman Kent Conrad (D-N.D.) warned that failure to pass the package would reduce economic growth by as much as 50 percent next year, citing projections from economist Mark Zandi.
Conrad said he strongly opposed the deal Obama and Republicans struck on the estate tax. He would prefer to tax estates above $3.5 million at a 45 percent rate, but said significant revisions to the package are unlikely.
“It’s very hard for me to see how this deal gets changed,” he said.
Conrad predicted the package would pick up enough bipartisan support to clear a filibuster planned by Sanders and Jim DeMint (R-S.C.).
“I can’t speak for the House,” he cautioned, reflecting the view of other Democrats that the deal will face a tougher fight in the lower chamber.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellObama administration officials ramp up push for Pacific pact Overnight Defense: GOP leaders express concerns after 9/11 veto override | Lawmakers press for Syria 'plan B' | US touts anti-ISIS airstrikes Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform MORE (Ky.) predicts the vast majority of his conference will support the deal. So far only DeMint and Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) have stated their opposition, according to senior GOP aides.
But some House lawmakers think Senate approval of the framework and the desire to adjourn a week before Christmas will give the package enough momentum to clear the House.
House Democratic leaders have asked the Senate to act first on the proposal.
—Jordan Fabian contributed to this report.
-- This story was updated at 4:10 p.m.