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Democrats Struggle to Finish Up Extenders

However, Reid’s rhetoric Tuesday was tough as he repeatedly threatened to keep the Senate in session over Memorial Day if the tax measure and the supplemental did not get passed.

“We’re going to work until we complete the supplemental appropriation bill and we complete the jobs bill,” Reid told reporters. “We need a way forward on both of those, and I think in the caucus today we had an extremely good discussion of both those issues.”

But many in his own caucus are experiencing sticker shock with the bill, which now includes a $65 billion “fix” in Medicare doctors’ payments, $4.6 billion to settle discrimination suits brought against the government by African-American and Native American farmers, and $1.5 billion in agriculture disaster relief.

“When it’s about spending here that’s not offset, you have to feel uncomfortable,” Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) said.

Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) expressed similar reservations.

“At some point you’ve got to draw some lines on some of these issues, for example, on the doctors’ fix,” Snowe said. “I think they should limit [the bill], most certainly. I’ve been sorting through all the issues, and they’ve added a number of, you know, expenditures in there, and I just think they’re using it as one of these catchall bills again.”

Snowe suggested offsetting the doc fix with unused economic stimulus funding.

Republicans in general seized on the bill’s costs to the deficit and accused Democrats of being reckless with taxpayer money.

Agitators in the House included Rep. Jared Polis, who said in a letter to his colleagues that the carried interest provisions in the bill would “destroy the jobs created by venture capital backed companies.” The Colorado Democrat suggested shrinking the overall package instead.

And Rep. Gerry Connolly said he would vote against the bill for the same reason that he voted against the House jobs package in December — it adds to the deficit.

“I support all the policy in the bill,” the Virginia Democrat said. “I oppose the bill, sadly and reluctantly, because it’s not paid for. I do not believe we can continue to bring up bills under the justification of emergency legislation that violate the spirit if not the letter of PAYGO.”

If action on the larger tax measure becomes impossible, Democrats held out the possibility of another short-term extension of benefits. But that is also likely to run into problems in the Senate.

The tax bill will enjoy “privileged” status on the Senate floor, which will make consideration in the chamber faster. A temporary measure would be unlikely to arrive under privileged rules and therefore could be filibustered.

Sen. Tom Coburn (Okla.) and other Republicans are likely to insist that any temporary extensions be offset, which Democrats, with some help from Republicans, firmly rejected in the past. The fight could take them into the weekend.

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