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Rather than wasting time comparing notes on how they spent their summer vacations, Senate Democrats celebrated their first full day back at work Tuesday by fighting over whether and how to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts.
Democratic Senators and aides said their regular Tuesday lunch turned into a free-for-all over how to tackle an issue that has rarely cut in Democrats favor and has some Senators nervous given that the majority expects to sustain substantial losses in both chambers come Nov. 2.
Even though public polls show a majority of Americans agree with President Barack Obamas plan to extend only middle-class tax cuts, there are still a handful of nervous Democrats who want to avoid being accused of raising taxes on individuals making more than $200,000 a year and couples making more than $250,000.
Sources said opinions at the lunch varied between Senators who do not want to vote on taxes before the elections and those who think a vote is essential to draw a pre-election contrast with Republicans, even if there isnt much expectation that they will be able to pass a bill until the lame-duck session. Senators also differed on whether to pursue a simple, permanent extension of middle-class tax cuts or to bring up a compromise that would extend higher-income tax cuts for a year or two. At least five Democrats have said they want to extend all of President George W. Bushs tax cuts.
People are on both sides on when to do it, Sen. Bob Casey (D-Pa.) said.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) said no consensus emerged from the meeting.
This is our first time back together since the recess, and it was an opportunity for people who have different points of view about what we should be doing in this period, including on Bush tax cuts, to share their point of view, Whitehouse said. I think it was, from the leaderships point of view, a listening session, and then decisions will get made. But in the Senate its important ... that everybody have a chance to be heard out before decisions are made.
One senior Senate Democratic aide agreed with Whitehouse, saying Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wanted to get the venting of the spleen out before he made any decisions on how to move forward.
Reid spokesman Rodell Mollineau acknowledged the caucus has some differences but said it is united on the most important point of discussion.