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Road Map: Senate Democrats Eager to Exit — After Flashy Finish

So, you’re a party in deep electoral trouble and want to get out of Washington quickly, but you also want make a splash before closing up shop. What to do?

If you’re the Senate Democrats, you engineer a last-minute vote on bill to punish companies that ship jobs overseas and bet on Republicans blocking it so your vulnerable incumbents can hustle home to campaign. You hype the vote along the way, in the hopes that a few voters might have a change of heart — at least enough to keep control of the chamber.

Assuming everything goes according to plan, Senate Democrats will lose a procedural vote today on a motion to break an expected GOP filibuster of a measure that would eliminate tax breaks for companies that outsource jobs. Immediately following, the Senate will vote to limit debate, or prevent another possible filibuster, on a continuing resolution intended to keep the government funded while Members are off campaigning.

To be sure, Democrats acknowledge the outsourcing bill is unlikely to be a game-changer for them as they head to possible losses in the midterms. But they said they believe the vote will help draw a sharp distinction between what the two parties stand for. It might also have a secondary effect of jolting a Democratic base that is decidedly unenthusiastic heading into the election.

“This is something the public understands and something that really makes them angry,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said of the companies that outsource jobs overseas. “It taps into the mood of the country right now. … There is no way to go at the jobs issues that will resonate more than outsourcing.”

That’s why the chambers decided to scrap a planned debate on whether to extend expiring Bush administration tax cuts for the middle class and whether to include tax cuts for wealthier taxpayers. Democrats said they felt President Barack Obama staked out the party’s position well earlier this month when he advocated extending tax cuts for couples making $250,000 or less ($200,000 for individuals).

But many vulnerable House and Senate Democratic incumbents objected to voting on the issue before the election.

“Most people feel like we’re in a good place on the tax issue,” the senior Senate Democratic aide said. “And having a vote eliminates the flexibility of candidates to say what they want in their own races … The [tax] debate can only be muddied by having a vote.”

In an attempt to draw attention to the vote on the outsourcing bill, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) called a symbolic “live quorum” Monday night, forcing Senators of both parties to the floor for debate.

Meanwhile, Republicans focused their message on Democrats’ plans for the Bush-era tax cuts, arguing that the majority would try during the lame-duck session to raise taxes on upper-income Americans and some small businesses.

“Anytime Democrats want to let Republicans talk about jobs and the economy for hours on end, we’ll take it,” a GOP leadership aide said prior to the debate. “Republicans will spend the day talking about ways to help our struggling economy; Democrats will spend the day complaining about process. I can’t think of a better way for us to kick off the last week before the elections.”

As for the outsourcing measure, Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) dismissed the vote as a last-ditch attempt by Democrats to save their own jobs.

“The vast majority, if not all of us, see this as sort of a political stunt,” said Kyl, who indicated he did not expect any Republicans to support the measure. Democrats acknowledged a few members of their party might vote against the bill.

House Democrats also are making accommodations for their vulnerable incumbents, with a vote planned this week on their own version of an outsourcing bill — a measure to crack down on China’s alleged manipulation of its currency. Critics of the practice said undervalued yuan help make China attractive to American businesses looking for a cheaper labor market.

“How about this debate: Democrats voting to keep American jobs in America and Republicans fighting against tax cuts for the middle class unless Lindsay Lohan gets more tax breaks,” a House Democratic leadership aide said.

Meanwhile, the outsourcing debate is masking the real ticket both parties need to get out of town — passage of the CR.

Though the House traditionally moves first on appropriations bills, House leaders are deferring to the Senate this time in order to avoid a protracted fight within their own ranks over spending priorities.

The Senate is not to have many — if any — add-ons to its CR, because of expected GOP objections to such moves. Instead, federal agencies are likely to have their funding frozen at fiscal 2010 levels at least until Dec. 3.

Senate Republicans are not expected to put up much of a fight over the CR, as long as Democrats keep the measure relatively “clean.”

If all goes well, Senators could be wheels-up by Wednesday night, followed closely by House Members on Thursday.

 

John Stanton and David M. Drucker contributed to this report.

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