Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid reacted in agreement to President Obama’s call for a one-year extension of the Bush tax cuts up to $250,000 of income, but he pointedly did not announce a scheduling of a vote on the proposal, probably because members of the Democratic caucus disagree and would rather extend all the tax cuts.
Here’s the statement from Reid, after Obama’s announcement this morning in the Rose Garden:
I agree with President Obama that we should extend tax cuts for all American families up to the first $250,000 of income immediately. This will protect middle-class families and allow us to reduce our deficit in a responsible manner. Democrats and Republicans should be able to agree that protecting the middle class is the most important priority, so Republicans should stop holding these middle-class tax cuts hostage to extract more reckless giveaways for millionaires and billionaires.
I will be discussing the next steps in the Senate with my caucus in the coming days. Republicans have claimed they want to reduce our deficit; in the weeks ahead, they will have a chance to do so by joining Democrats to vote to extend tax cuts for all middle class American families on the first $250,000 of their income.
Emphasis mine. Reid commits not to holding a vote, but merely to discussing next steps. He’s constrained by the fact that several members of the Democratic caucus won’t welcome taking this vote. Earlier this year, on votes like the Buffett rule, which acts as a de facto tax increase for millionaires by setting a minimum effective tax rate for them, Senate Democrats struggled to maintain a majority. Members like Ben Nelson and Joe Manchin seem ideologically opposed to raising taxes on anyone, even millionaires, and almost certainly on those making over $250,000 a year. Meanwhile, Democrats in tough races in Republican-leaning states in November, like Jon Tester and Claire McCaskill, will have to weigh this vote against the political implications.
These calculations may exist in isolated circumstances on the Republican side as well, particularly for Senators like Scott Brown in Massachusetts. But by and large, Republicans will vote en masse against splitting the tax cuts, no matter how it’s framed. And conservative Democrats will tie themselves in knots over whether allowing taxes on the rich to rise, a popular position, is politically advantageous to them. Keep in mind this is as much about who these Senators raise money from as it is the implications of the vote in raw electoral terms. Donors tend not to like it when you vote to raise their taxes.
This obviously makes it more difficult for the President to gain political advantage over Mitt Romney on this tax plan if he cannot get a simple majority in a chamber of Congress his party controls to agree with it.
UPDATE: I suppose you can read a bit more into Reid’s intentions when he closes by saying, “in the weeks ahead,” Republicans will have a chance to vote on the Obama proposal for extending the tax cuts up to $250,000. So there’s a soft commitment at some point in the future to hold a vote. That doesn’t discount the tension within the caucus over these matters, which has been clear from previous votes.