Democrats called the Senate back to the floor Saturday for a symbolic vote on two proposals to extend the Bush-era tax cuts that hardly anyone expected to pass.
The skeptics were right.
Republicans and a handful of Democrats helped block both measures. The first would have permanently extended the Bush-era tax cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 per year and married couples earning up to $250,000, which the House passed Thursday. The second bill, spearheaded by New York Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer, would have lifted the threshold to Americans earning $1 million.
Senate Republicans have vowed that they will not budge from a commitment to keep tax rates at their current level for all income earners, and withheld the votes Democrats needed to obtain cloture.
President Obama expressed “disappointment” at the result: “Those provisions should have passed,” he said in a statement to reporters at the White House, hours after returning from a day trip to Afghanistan.
The president said Republicans were holding tax cut extensions for the middle class “hostage.”
All 42 members of the Republican caucus signed a letter this week sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid saying they would not allow any piece of legislation to move forward until all of the tax cuts are extended and the body agrees on a bill to fund the government into the next year. With just four weeks until the tax cuts expire, neither of those demands have been met. (Congress has had nearly a decade to deal with the expiring tax rates.)
Senators on both sides spent the morning debating the bills on the floor. Majority Leader Sen. Harry Reid compared the Republican tactics to an old Peanuts cartoon in which Lucy repeatedly tricks Charlie Brown, who is trying to kick a football, by pulling it away at the last minute.
“It’s obvious by now that our Republican friends have drawn their political strategy from this cartoon,” Reid said on the Senate floor Saturday morning. “Our economy isn’t a cartoon. The jobs of hardworking Americans aren’t political footballs. And instead of taking their ball and going home when they don’t get their way, it’s time Republicans realize that we’re not here to embarrass one another. We’re here to get things done.”
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, however, called Saturday’s exercise “a total waste of time.”
The reason for keeping the lights on in the Capitol building an extra day was simple: It forced Senate Republicans to go on the record with a vote against a measure that would ensure taxes do not go up for the middle class. Even Reid admitted the unpopularity of coming in on a weekend, saying it was a decision “virtually no one is happy with.”
It was reported Thursday, however, that Democrats intended to vote on four measures Friday, but Oklahoma Sen. Tom Coburn objected, forcing Reid to punt them to the weekend. Republicans fired back by asking why they could not just hold the votes on Monday, when there is currently nothing scheduled. Reid said there wasn’t enough time for “delays,” and then scheduled a weekend vote on two bills that were almost sure not to pass.
Despite the lack of substantive congressional action, a bipartisan committee met behind closed doors this week to find a compromise on how to proceed with the extension of the Bush tax cuts, and its members are expected to officially announce their final decision in the next few days. It is anticipated that they will recommend a temporary extension of all the Bush-era tax cuts in return for an agreement to also extend unemployment benefits that expire this week and support for a nuclear arms treaty with Russia.
With symbolic votes out of their systems, and the talking points securely in place for the Sunday talk shows, Congress can now move on to a vote on a bill that both parties can stomach. If no agreement is reached, taxes will increase for everyone in exactly four weeks.