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Democrats Toy With Endgame

Tom Williams/Roll Call
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said he wants to see what the Senate can pass on tax cuts before deciding how the House should proceed.

House and Senate Democrats scrambled Tuesday to finalize their pre-election exit strategy. But as has been the case for much of the 111th Congress, they remain at odds on a path forward.

The only thing the chambers seem to be able to agree on is that they need to let Members go home by the end of next week, after passing a continuing resolution to keep the government funded through the elections.

“People want to get home,” Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Tuesday. “It’s an election year and there are a lot of very close elections. ... If we can’t do anything positive, if we can’t … pass laws of importance, then why stay here and debate?”

But discontent over having to vote on raising taxes — even just on the wealthy — continued to cause anxiety on both sides of the Capitol. And Democratic leaders exited a bicameral leadership meeting Tuesday night saying no decisions had been made on how, when or whether to bring up an extension of Bush-era tax cuts for those making less than $250,000 a year.

The two chambers have been battling over which side should go first, but a Senate-only debate sometime next week appears to be the most likely scenario. It was unclear whether either chamber would actually vote on the issue before leaving town.

“I have nothing worked out yet,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said.

Aides said the Nevada Democrat was hoping to reach an agreement in the coming days with Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on the parameters of the tax cut debate. The pair was scheduled to meet Tuesday, and Senate Democrats said they would discuss strategy at their caucus on Thursday.

Reid appeared to be leaning toward bringing up votes on extending the tax cuts next week, given a fear that Republicans could use Senate rules to force a debate anyway. Still, Democratic Senators said there are internal disagreements over whether to have a debate at all.

Sen. Tom Carper said he would be happy to take up the issue but said some Members who are up for re-election feel it might further imperil their chances on Nov. 2.

“Right now, it’s not clear to me that we’re actually going to take up and debate before the election the so-called Bush tax cuts,” the Delaware Democrat said. He added, “My inclination is to listen to people who are running and … try to be understanding of their position.”

Durbin, who early in the day floated the notion that middle-class tax cuts could be added to the CR, said the issue didn’t come up during the House and Senate leadership meeting Tuesday afternoon.

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