- The Washington Times
Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Republican senators said Wednesday they will block all business in the chamber until Democrats tackle the long-overdue spending bills and impending tax increases, raising the level of brinkmanship to new heights even as House Democrats prepared to push ahead with a partisan tax vote Thursday.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said the chamber will vote on a bill that would extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for most Americans, but would mean a tax increase for those making more than $250,000.

That vote comes even as a high-level working group organized by President Obama and congressional leaders met to try to make a binding deal, and even as Senate Republicans said they won’t accept tax increases that could affect small businesses.

“It says that every Republicans will vote against proceeding to any legislative matter until we’ve funded the government and protected every taxpayer from a tax hike,” said Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican. “Basically, first things first.”

All 42 Senate Republicans - including Sen. Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, who was sworn in Monday - signed a letter saying they will filibuster anything Democrats try to do “until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.”

The move was meant to pressure Democrats, who are divided over how to handle the tax cuts and who had hoped to move on to issues more friendly to them, such as union-friendly legislation, a nuclear arms reduction treaty and a bill to legalize illegal immigrant students.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he will push ahead with those other bills anyway, noting that the Senate should work on other things while making progress on the spending and tax cut bills.

“I wish I could report we’re close to wrapping up action on these bills, but we’re not,” Mr. Reid said Wednesday after receiving the letter, which he said was meant as a tactic to give Republicans who might otherwise support his priorities a reason to vote against them.

On Tuesday, President Obama and congressional leaders agreed to form a six-person, high-level working group to try to hash out a final deal on tax cuts. They met twice Wednesday.

But congressional aides said the real decision-making will happen when Senate Democrats decide how much they will need to bend in order to pass a bill.

Republicans are unified in calling for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to be extended in full, while Democrats are divided. Some want to see the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 expire, while others say raising taxes could damage the fragile economy further.

One compromise that Senate Democrats floated this week was to raise the income level of those whose tax cuts will be extended to $1 million, but Republicans contend that such an increase still will hurt some small businesses.

Even as Republicans professed unity on their two top priorities, some cracks were showing. Several Republicans said they also want to make sure unemployment benefits are extended for the long-term jobless.

Those benefits expired this week, and Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over an extension and how best to pay for it.

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