Late yesterday, Harry Reid nearly blindsided his Republican counterpart by passing President Obama’s one-year tax extension of the Bush tax rates on the first $250,000 of income. He called for a majority vote on both that plan and a full extension of all the Bush tax cuts, confident that he would win on both. Mitch McConnell declined.
This ended some uncertainty about the tax vote, and whether Reid could round up the forces to pass the Obama plan. Initially, Reid planned to hold the vote sometime later in the month, defying earlier reports that claimed he was having trouble securing the votes. Then one high-profile Senator, Joe Lieberman, came out against the Obama tax plan, saying he didn’t want to do anything piecemeal. That appeared to imperil the prospect of getting 50 votes in the Senate for it, given the known perspectives of conservative Democrats like Joe Manchin and Ben Nelson, and other vulnerable Senators in tight re-election campaigns like Claire McCaskill and Jon Tester.
But by the end of the day, Reid had the votes, or at least he was a good enough bluffer to say this on the Senate floor:
Republicans know very well the Senate will vote on the President’s proposal to give middle-class families certainty they won’t face a tax increase.
We’ll vote on it this work period, as I have already said. They say they want to vote sooner.
So let’s lock in an agreement to vote on:
· The President’s plan to give 98 percent of Americans certainty their taxes won’t go up,
· And the Republican plan to raise taxes on 25 million families.
Democrats are ready to have these votes right away at a simple majority threshold.
Then we can get back to the task at hand – cutting taxes for millions of small businesses that want to expand and put Americans back to work.
The vote would have attached to a small business tax cut bill. Mitch McConnell, the Minority Leader, objected to unanimous consent for this. Earlier in the day, he proposed the same two votes, presumably under an agreement with a 60-vote threshold for both, to ensure that they would be message votes that didn’t pass. But he didn’t want to risk the possibility of the Obama tax plan passing, I presume.
This means that Senate Democrats, now behind the plan of their standard-bearer, can make the argument that Republicans are holding tax cuts for all Americans – even millionaires would keep their tax break on the first $250,000 of income, under the plan – hostage, unless bonus tax cuts go to the wealthy. Either that, or Nevada’s Senator is pretty good at poker.