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Tax Package Hinges on House

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President Barack Obama’s tax cut package may have cleared a major hurdle in the Senate on Monday evening, but the measure is still far from becoming law as House Democrats continue to demand changes.

The Senate’s vote Monday to invoke cloture, ending a filibuster by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), cleared the way for Members to give final approval to the bill tonight. While Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) were negotiating over a handful of possible amendments to the bill, aides in both camps acknowledged that no substantive changes would be made.

“We’re basically locked in,” a Democratic aide said Monday.

The $858 billion plan, struck last week between Obama and McConnell, would extend all Bush-era tax cuts for two years and unemployment insurance benefits for 13 months. 

The deal angered liberal Democrats, particularly in the House, who felt they were left out of discussions and that Obama gave up too much to get a deal. Some Senate Democrats were also upset, but most acknowledged that the package may be the only way to keep taxes from increasing on middle-income Americans and to prevent unemployment benefits from expiring.

Indeed, even a number of vocal Democratic critics of the deal — including Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer (N.Y.) and Sens. Claire McCaskill (Mo.), Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.), Benjamin Cardin (Md.), Debbie Stabenow (Mich.), Mary Landrieu (La.) and Al Franken (Minn.) — ultimately voted to move toward final passage of the plan.

After the vote, many Democrats said the deal was the best they could get, and that too much was at stake to let the measure fail. “We must act. Because if we fail to extend these critical provisions, we place our economy at risk. If we fail to act, we place middle-class families at risk,” Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (Mont.) said.

Obama immediately called on the House to “act quickly” on the Senate-passed bill, which he argued would help grow the economy and create jobs. 

And McConnell warned House Democrats against making changes to the Senate-passed package, saying in a statement: “If the House Democratic Leadership decides to make partisan changes, they will ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on January 1st.”

But the path forward is far from certain in the House. Democratic leaders were searching for a strategy Monday night and were making clear that the White House should not consider them a rubber stamp to the Senate.

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