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Conflict Awaits in Lame-Duck Session

But some Democrats said they still think they have a hand to play, even if they lose seats on Election Day.

Another senior Senate Democratic aide said the majority could decide to bring up Obama’s plan to extend only middle-class tax breaks. If Republicans block that and the GOP plan to extend all the tax cuts also fails — because of opposition from liberal Democrats — Republicans could be in a tough position if the public blames them for letting all the tax cuts expire, the aide said.

“If we fail to pass something on Bush tax cuts in the lame duck, they have more to lose from that than us,” the aide said, noting Democrats would recycle their argument that Republicans are holding up middle-class tax cuts in order to give breaks to the rich.

Knowing that deals on those issues and others may be hard to reach until after Nov. 2, Reid set up procedural votes on three lower-priority bills for Nov. 17, two days after the chamber is expected to reconvene. The three votes will be on a bill to establish new food safety rules, a measure to boost enforcement of equal-pay laws, and legislation to create incentives for natural gas and electric vehicles.

Those votes are intended to give the Senate time to process the results of the elections and devise a game plan for what bipartisan agreements are possible, sources said.

Besides Bush-era tax cuts and keeping the government funded, the Senate may also have to deal in the lame duck with other tax extenders, an extension of unemployment insurance, a nuclear arms agreement with Russia, the recommendations of Obama’s debt commission and a Defense Department authorization bill, among other things.

“While I do not expect much to change when it comes to the Republican record of ‘no,’ we remain committed to addressing the many issues facing the country,” Reid spokeswoman Regan Lachapelle said.

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