Sen. McConnell calls for straight up-or-down votes on Bush tax rates

In an unexpected twist Wednesday, Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to simple majority votes on Democratic and Republican plans to extend the Bush-era tax rates.

McConnell’s offer raises the prospect that Democrats could pass through the Senate legislation to raise taxes on wealthy Americans.

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But it has little prospect of becoming law because revenue-raising measures must originate in the House and House Republicans will not pass a bill to end the Bush tax rates for any income brackets.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier this month that he would have enough Democrats to pass his caucus’s tax proposal by a simple majority vote.

McConnell said he agreed to the unusual arrangement to force vulnerable Democrats to vote on the merits of the competing tax bills and not hide behind procedural votes that keep the Bush tax rates from receiving up-or-down votes.

A senior GOP aide said McConnell wants to force vulnerable Democrats such as Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Kay Hagan (N.C.) to vote for the Democrats’ proposal to raise estate taxes.

“The only way to force people to take a stand is to make sure that today’s votes truly count,” he said. “By setting these votes at the 50-vote threshold, nobody on the other side can hide behind a procedural vote while leaving their views on the actual bill itself a mystery, a simple mystery to the people who sent them here,” McConnell said Wednesday morning on the Senate floor.

“That’s what today’s votes are all about, about showing the people who sent us here where we stand,” he added.

He also called for a simple majority vote on President Obama’s plan to extend the Bush-era tax rates only for families earning below $250,000 annually.

The Democrats’ tax plan would also extend tax rates only for families earning below $250,000. It diverges from Obama’s plan in its treatment of taxes on estates and dividends.