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2010 Brings Familiar Endgame

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Reid has said he will support the measure, and he’s joined by a diverse coalition from his Conference, including Sens. Bob Menendez (N.J.), John Kerry (Mass.), Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.), Daniel Akaka (Hawaii), Michael Bennet (Colo.), Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Joe Manchin (W.Va.), Jim Webb (Va.), Max Baucus (Mont.), Joe Lieberman (Conn.), Kent Conrad (N.D.), Ben Nelson (Neb.), Evan Bayh (Ind.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), Tom Carper (Del.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Bob Casey (Pa.).

All but two Republicans — Sens. Jim DeMint (S.C.) and George Voinovich (Ohio) — are expected to vote for the bill, and Reid is within three votes of being able to break Sanders’ filibuster, a hurdle most believe he will easily overcome.

The path forward in the House remains murky. Backers of the compromise such as Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) predicted last week that the House will have to accept the Senate bill without amendments, and she expects Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) will ultimately bring the bill to the floor. Pelosi said last week she would respect the vote of her Caucus to keep the bill off the floor unless changes are made.

Opponents don’t appear to be satisfied yet.

“Dozens and dozens of House Democrats have real issues with something that will extend the Bush tax cuts,” one Democratic House aide said. “The question is can these folks feel as though they’ve made their voices heard so that there can be a vote in some way maybe to amend the bill.”

House Democrats could accept the Senate-passed bill, change it and force a conference committee or put it off to next year, an unsavory choice for many given the Bush-era tax cuts — particularly those for the middle class — expire on Jan. 1 and unemployment insurance benefits expired earlier this month. Some Democrats have suggested finding a separate measure to bring up alongside the tax package that would appease liberals.

“Right now there is not a lot of clarity on what the next step forward is on the legislative path except do what we can to strengthen and improve the bill the Senate would bring up,” the Democratic aide said.

But another senior Democratic leadership aide wasn’t optimistic about making significant changes to the final bill.

“I think what happens is if they make a couple of solid tweaks, we’ll swallow,” the aide said. “There is no doubt we’ll cave. We have nowhere else to go. It will be a question of how many votes we put up versus Republicans.”

While Democrats want to negotiate, they aren’t in a very good position, acknowledged the senior aide.

“In some ways House Democrats have put themselves on the sidelines,” this aide said. “We have one piece of leverage — the vote in caucus.”

And if House Democrats do get concessions, some House Republicans might walk away. Already some conservative groups were criticizing the final package as pork-laden and urging Republicans to hold out for a cleaner tax cut extension bill.

Anna Palmer contributed to this report.

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