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Road Map: Selling Tax Deal Is Leaders’ Next Task

Bill Clark/Roll Call
Sen. Charles Schumer speaks at a press conference with other Democratic Senators on Saturday after the Senate blocked two proposals to extend middle-class tax cuts.

“We think pressure will continue to build on Republican Senators. ... We expect two, three, four, five, 10 Republicans to peel off because they don’t want to be on the wrong side of history,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) added.

How widespread opposition to a full extension of the tax cuts is within in Reid’s caucus is unclear; aides said that while Durbin has not yet begun whipping the issue, it appears there should be enough support for the White House deal.

But Schumer has the support of a sizable vocal minority that appears content to let the tax cuts lapse Jan. 1, betting that having a united GOP repeatedly defeat middle-class tax cuts will make the case that Republicans are simply looking out for the interests of the wealthy.

Schumer can also count on at least one Republican to vote against the deal, regardless of how long it is. Retiring Sen. George Voinovich (Ohio) told the Aspen Institute that as he prepares to exit the Senate, he fears so much for the country’s financial well-being that he will oppose any extension of the President George W. Bush tax cuts, according to the Washington Post.

“As I look at my experience, I believe that if this thing goes through and we extend it, we will kick this thing down the road. ... It’s completely irresponsible,” he said.

The prospect for an easy sell in the House is equally unclear.

The deal faces a backlash among liberals in the House, who have strongly resisted the idea of trading away a key part of Obama’s campaign platform — ending tax cuts for the rich.

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) issued a statement Monday calling the plan “fiscally irresponsible” and “grossly unfair.” Welch was circulating a letter to Pelosi, seeking signatures from Democrats opposed to the deal.

But with Senate Republicans blocking middle-class tax cuts and unemployment assistance and House Republicans set to take over the chamber in a few weeks, liberals’ clout is rapidly diminishing.

If Republicans and Pelosi embrace the package, they should have enough votes between them to pass it.

The tax cut fight will be the backdrop for what will be, particularly in the Senate, a week heavy on political posturing but light on actual legislating.

Reid was expected to file cloture Monday to force votes on a series of bills Democrats have sought to push through, including the DREAM Act immigration reform measure and a 9/11 firefighters health bill.

The move would set up votes on the measures Wednesday, which would give the Senate enough time to conduct a rare impeachment trial of Judge Thomas Porteous beginning Tuesday morning.

None of the bills, which also include a collective-bargaining measure for firefighters and a one-time $250 cost-of-living adjustment payment to seniors, is expected to muster the 60 votes needed to break a GOP filibuster, although agreement could be reached on the $250 COLA payment measure.

Given that schedule, aides said the earliest debate on taxes could begin is Thursday.

Steven T. Dennis contributed to this report.

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