Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Thursday that Senate Democrats may need to hold another long caucus meeting Thursday night or Friday morning to discuss how to deal with a bill the House passed Thursday to limit the extension of Bush-era tax cuts to individuals earning less than $200,000.
Democrats have huddled for days in closed-door meetings aimed at setting the chamber’s schedule and finding a way to handle the tax issue.
The Nevada Democrat began taking steps Thursday afternoon to bring the House bill to the Senate floor Friday, setting the stage for a first round of votes on tax cuts for either Friday or Saturday.
But his Conference remains deeply divided and has made little headway in coming to an agreement on a tax deal.
Following a Thursday afternoon meeting, Reid brushed aside a question about why it was taking Senate Democrats so long to come to consensus, first placing the burden on the House and then referencing the ongoing bipartisan discussions between high-ranking Obama administration officials and Members from both parties and chambers.
“It’s no secret, you know, that there are other discussions going on between the White House and others, and I haven’t heard anything definitive from any of them,” Reid told reporters. “So we’re just going to have to wait and see how this develops.”
He also sidestepped a question about whether he is confident the White House will back him and his caucus given Senate Democrats’ laundry list of priorities — particularly an extension of unemployment benefits — they have set out for the lame-duck session.
“This is all so hypothetical. I mean, we’ll have to wait and see,” Reid said. “I think everyone knows I’ve had a number of meetings at the White House this week, and we’re trying to work through all this, and right now ... I don’t have anything definite now that I can tell you that we’ve determined what we’re going to do.”
But Democrats were clearly concerned about how the tax talks were playing out in the context of their broader agenda, particularly given the White House’s insistence on finishing that bill and the START Treaty before the end of the year.
Indeed, administration officials and Republican aides sought to tamp down rumors Thursday that the White House and GOP leadership had cut a separate deal Wednesday to temporarily extend all of the tax cuts in exchange for passage of the stalled Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty — a rumor that was exacerbating the concerns of rank-and-file Democrats.
“There’s a lot swirling around. There’s a lot of concerns, a lot of economic concerns, a lot of political realities,” said Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.).
Still, Reid reiterated that he is “confident and hopeful” that the Senate can take up not only an extension of the tax cuts and a long-term continuing resolution to fund the government into next year, but also the DREAM Act, which would reform immigration policy; a repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which bars openly gay men and women from serving in the military; and a bill that would provide health care to emergency responders exposed to toxins in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
“All those things are on my agenda,” he said.