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Even as a bipartisan task force began trying to reach a deal on tax cuts Wednesday, Democrats and Republicans in Congress made it clear that neither side has any interest in compromise.
Fresh out of a Tuesday White House meeting aimed at forging a bipartisan path, Senate Republican leaders announced Wednesday that their entire 42-member Conference will block any bills from coming up until votes are taken on extending Bush-era tax cuts and keeping the government funded.
“We will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item” until those two issues are done, Republican Senators wrote in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). “With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities.”
President Barack Obama dismissed the idea that the GOP ultimatum breaks the spirit of Tuesday’s bipartisan, bicameral huddle.
“There are going to be some lingering politics” that will have to work themselves out, the president told pool reporters Wednesday. “There are going to be some ups and downs in this process,” but a tax cut deal will ultimately come together, he said.
Reid was less diplomatic in his response, accusing GOP Senators of continuing to “stand on the sidelines rooting for failure.”
But Democrats have been itching for a tax fight in the hopes of forcing votes on extending middle-class tax cuts, an issue that plays well around the country given the shaky state of the economy.
The White House has tried to move the issue forward by tapping Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Office of Management and Budget Director Jacob Lew to lead a new bipartisan, bicameral team, which met for the first time Wednesday, to find common ground on the issue.
But the boldness of Republicans announcing unilateral opposition to legislating until they can extend cuts for all taxpayers, including the wealthy, has left many Democrats stunned.
“They’re blocking the most stimulative thing for the economy for the least stimulative thing for the economy: tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said from the floor.
Finance Chairman Max Baucus said he still intends to push at least one vote on a stand-alone middle-class tax cuts bill, similar to the measure the House is expected to vote on today.
“It’s important to have a vote on middle-class tax cuts” to show where the two parties stand, the Montana Democrat said.
But that vote and a potential vote on a GOP-backed permanent extension of all of the Bush tax cuts appear to be the only message votes that Senators will take on the matter.