GOP blocks tax breaks bill

Senate Republicans blocked progress on an $85 billion tax package on Thursday amid deep anger aimed at Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

In a 53-40 vote, the Senate failed to end debate on the tax package authored by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-Ore.). Sixty votes were required to move forward, and only Republican Sen. Mark Kirk (Ill.) voted with Democrats.

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Other Republicans blocked the measure, even though many support the slew of expired tax breaks, out of frustration with Reid, whom they say is preventing the minority party from offering amendments to the bill. 

"We have a tax bill here that members from both sides want to improve and support. Yet we don’t get a chance to amend it," Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said ahead of the vote. "[Democrats] have turned the Senate into a graveyard of good ideas and good democratic debate."

Even Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who insisted this week that he'd back the extenders bill and defended it on the Senate floor, said the fight over amendments was bigger.

“If our guys are getting shut out, I think it’s awfully hard to be for this process, even though most of us support the bill,” said Sen. John Thune (S.D.), a member of both GOP leadership and the Finance panel.

Republicans wanted to offer amendments to repeal the ObamaCare medical device tax and strike the wind production tax credit from the Senate package, but Reid filed cloture on the bill Wednesday after using a procedural move known as filling the amendment tree that blocks the minority party's ability to call up amendments.

Reid said if cloture were invoked, he would have allowed Wyden and Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the ranking member on Finance, to work on an amendment package. 

"If they’re interested in more amendments why don’t we let Sen. Wyden and Sen. Hatch see what they can come up with," the majority leader (D-Nev.) said before the vote.

He also repeated his criticism that McConnell and Senate Republicans are blocking any progress on legislation in the Senate. 

This is the second bill in a row that had bipartisan support but failed in a fight over amendments. The tax extender package passed unanimously out of committee.

Earlier this week the Senate gave up work on an energy efficiency bill after the two parties couldn't work out a deal on amendments. That failure also prevented a vote on the Keystone XL oil pipeline. 

Republicans have repeatedly complained that Reid is running the Senate like a “dictator” by not allowing votes on any GOP amendments.

“It’s more important to assert our rights than to do anything else,” said Hatch. “I consider the way the Senate is being run right now to be an absolute tragedy. It’s inexcusable.”

The tax package includes 50 different tax breaks, including the popular research and design (R&D) tax credit. The breaks expired at the end of last year.

The actual vote on Thursday was on a substitute amendment authored by Wyden to H.R. 3474, the legislative vehicle for the tax extender package. More procedural votes would have been needed before final passage, but now the Senate seems to be at a standstill on the bill. 

Reid switched his vote on cloture to "no" so that he can call the amendment up again later if needed.