Momentum for tax deal builds in Senate as critics leave door open

Momentum for tax deal builds in Senate as critics leave door open

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 SandersSupport drops for Medicare for All but increases for public option Hillicon Valley: Warren takes on Facebook over political ads | Zuckerberg defends meetings with conservatives | Civil liberties groups sound alarm over online extremism bill On The Money: Trump touts China trade deal | Wall Street, Washington see signs for caution | Trump threatens sanctions on Turkey | Sanders proposes sharp hike to corporate taxes MORE (Vt.), an independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Sen. Mark UdallMark Emery UdallPoll: Trump trails three Democrats by 10 points in Colorado The Hill's Morning Report — Trump and the new Israel-'squad' controversy Colorado candidates vying to take on Gardner warn Hickenlooper they won't back down MORE (D-Colo.). Sen. Patrick LeahyPatrick Joseph LeahyRand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter Senator questions agencies on suicide prevention, response after Epstein's death in federal custody During impeachment storm, senators cross aisle to lessen mass incarceration MORE (D-Vt.) has also strongly criticized the deal "wrong for most Vermonters" and "wrong for our country."

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Democrats who have criticized the deal such as Sens. Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinWisconsin lawmaker gets buzz-cut after vowing not to cut hair until sign language bill passed Democratic debates kick off Iowa summer sprint Key endorsements: A who's who in early states MORE (D-Iowa) and Mary LandrieuMary Loretta LandrieuCongress needs to work to combat the poverty, abuse and neglect issues that children face Dems wrestle over how to vote on ‘Green New Deal’ Lobbying world MORE (D-La.) have left open the possibility of supporting the package in the end.

“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 Francis WelchDemocrats plow ahead as Trump seeks to hobble impeachment effort Democrats claim new momentum from intelligence watchdog testimony Intelligence watchdog huddles with members as impeachment push grows 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 NelsonClarence (Bill) William NelsonBottom Line Bottom Line Media and candidates should be ashamed that they don't talk about obesity MORE (Fla.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusBottom line Overnight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor MORE (Mont.) and Tom CarperThomas (Tom) Richard CarperInstead of raising the gas tax, stop wasting money on frivolous projects To stave off a recession, let's pass a transportation infrastructure bill Overnight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists 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 McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellFury over Trump Syria decision grows Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Trump to slap sanctions on Turkey for Syria offensive | Trump calls on Turkey to broker ceasefire | Pelosi, Graham seek deal on sanctions | Ex-Trump aide testifies in impeachment probe Trump: Let Assad, Russia or China protect the Kurds 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.