Senate Dems vow return to tax cuts

Senate Democrats vowed to make a vote on the Bush-era tax cuts their first order of business when they return for the lame-duck session.

After finishing floor business near midnight Wednesday, Democrats held a handful of committee meetings Thursday morning before breaking to campaign for reelection.

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Before leaving, asked by The Hill to name the party’s top priorities for the Nov. 15th lame-duck session, several Democrats named the tax cuts that went unresolved with the Senate’s adjournment.

Perhaps the most politically volatile issue facing Congress this summer and fall, House and Senate leaders repeatedly flirted with a vote on whether to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts pushed by President George W. Bush. Without a vote, the tax cuts expire at year’s end, setting up a situation where Republicans have accused Democrats of plotting tax “hikes” and Democrats responding they are only interested in preserving cuts for the middle-class.
 
Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry ReidChris Murphy’s profile rises with gun tragedies Republicans are headed for a disappointing end to their year in power Obama's HHS secretary could testify in Menendez trial MORE (D-Nev.) has tentatively planned a lame-duck agenda with as many as 20 different pieces of legislation — a heavy lift for a session that is only expected to last about a month or less. That left Senate Democrats considering what should come first when they return.
 
From senior members to rank-and-file, all named the tax-cut issue, saying they wanted to preserve the cuts for families earning less than $250,000 per year — a key campaign pledge of President Obama’s.
 
“The tax cuts should be our top priority,” said Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDems plan to make gun control an issue in Nevada Red-state Dems need more from Trump before tax embrace Stabenow: ‘Kid Rock might actually win the Republican primary’ MORE (D-Mich.). “We also want our food-safety bill and the budget done, but the tax cuts are Number One.”
 
“That’s easy — we need to make a decision on the tax cuts and extenders, including the estate tax. That should be first,” said Sen. Claire McCaskillClaire Conner McCaskillKoch-backed group targets red-state Dems on tax reform Overnight Cybersecurity: Equifax security employee left after breach | Lawmakers float bill to reform warrantless surveillance | Intel leaders keeping collusion probe open Las Vegas highlights Islamist terrorism is not America's greatest domestic threat MORE (D-Mo.). “Other things should be there too, but we really need to get the tax stuff done.”

The Senate will have to deal with the federal budget. The continuing resolution Congress passed Wednesday to fund the government expires on December 3rd.

Other popular items for members: The U.S.-Russia START arms control treaty, a food-safety bill that stalled this month, and a measure to crackdown on a trade imbalance with China that easily passed the House this week.

There are plenty of competing priorities, however, especially among the party’s senior committee chairmen. Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said he wants a vote on a cyber-security bill his panel has been crafting. Banking Committee Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) is pushing the Paycheck Fairness Act and an expansion of collective bargaining rights for firefighters.
 

Some Democrats divided the lame-duck session into “must-do” items, such as the federal budget and the START treaty, and “secondary” issues such as a repeal of the U.S. military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” rule.
 
“What we need to do is match up the list compared to how many days we’ll have,” said Sen. Bob CaseyRobert (Bob) Patrick CaseyDem senator: Inaction on gun control sending 'unintentional endorsement' Congress has a chance to make saving for college a lot easier Sen. Manchin won’t vote for Trump’s mine safety nominee MORE (D-Pa.). “That’ll give us a better sense not only of what’s possible, but how things should be prioritized.”
 
One senior Democratic aide agreed with Casey’s point, noting there is little chance that the Senate will be able to finish such a large to-do list. Items like the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” repeal are likely to be taken up if there is time, while issues like the START treaty ratification are more likely since it has already passed the Foreign Relations Committee on a bipartisan, 14-4 vote.
 
“The budget and tax cuts,” the aide said of November’s highest priorities. “Beyond that, everything’s just on the list. Sometimes it’s almost harder to prioritize things than to actually do them.”
 
The lame-duck votes will be the last for several retiring Democrats, as well as those who lose their re-election bids. The party is projected to lose about seven or eight seats — not enough to lose control of the chamber, but enough to significantly thin their ranks and make it more difficult for legislation next year.
 
The party will lose at least six current members — Dodd, Byron Dorgan (N.D.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Roland Burris (Ill.), Carte Goodwin (W.Va.), Ted Kaufman (Del.) and Arlen Specter (Pa.) — to retirements, term expirations, or primary defeats.

On the Republican side, Sens. George LeMieux (Fla.), Sam Brownback (Kan.), Jim Bunning (Ky.), Kit Bond (Mo.), Judd Gregg (N.H.), and George Voinovich (Ohio) are retiring.