After an 83-15 vote on the motion to proceed in the Senate, final passage could apparently come as soon as today. Tom Coburn, who voted no, isn’t typically willing to cede all the post-cloture time to speed things along, and he could hold out until Friday if he so chose, but the indications are that he won’t. In case you were wondering how serious he was about stopping the bill.
The real problem comes in the more partisan House, where Democrats are doing a lot of jawing about changing the bill. Mitch McConnell laid down a familiar marker by saying that the House can’t change one word of the bill or the deal’s off. This is what’s known as “bipartisan compromise.”
The Kentucky Republican’s comments came in a statement shortly after the Senate agreed to move toward final passage of the tax measure, which would extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years and unemployment benefits for 13 months. McConnell struck the deal with the White House last week.
“We now urge the House leadership to bring this bipartisan agreement to a vote without political games or partisan changes designed only to block this bill’s passage in the House. 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,” McConnell said in the statement.
McConnell may not have the support of his own party in the House. Republicans in the grassroots have become more strident against the bill in recent days, and noted weather vane Mitt Romney has an op-ed today where he slams the bill, mostly because it doesn’t make the Bush tax cuts permanent and because it adds to the deficit (yeah, I don’t get it either). He also wants to create “unemployment savings accounts,” which sounds fine until you realize that would mean that individuals, not businesses, would pay for unemployment insurance with their own money. I don’t think House Republicans will necessarily cater to the base on this one, but you may see some erosion of support. But that only matters if House Democrats use the opportunity.
The White House is fixating on the stimulative impact and avenues for job creation in the bill, which they’re doing a good job of overselling. It appears that House Democrats want a vote on some amendment, more as a way to vent than anything real. They have focused on the estate tax provision, which is one of the more egregious parts of the deal, but also one cherished by the big money-loving Republicans. It’s likely that any estate tax increase from the baseline of the deal wouldn’t attract enough support in the House to pass, particularly from millionaire lame duck Blue Dogs looking at their own estate futures (and future employment as lobbyists for their wealthy contributors). The original House estate tax proposal, which created a $3.5 million dollar exemption and a 45% rate, only won by a 225-210 count. This proposal, with its $5 million dollar exemption and 35% rate, will probably have more support from money-loving Blue Dogs, and all the Republicans.
There are several other points at which to attack this legislation, which I may go into further. Preventing an effective tax increase on between 30 and 50 million workers making under $20,000 a year seems like the best place to start. You can even pay for it by phasing out the payroll tax cut for high incomes – there’s no reason why Alex Rodriguez or Tom Cruise need an extra $2,136 in their pockets, and it won’t impact their buying behavior, which is the entire point. But unfortunately, that’s not where the House is looking. Indeed, their resistance seems largely ephemeral.