- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Republican senators said Wednesday they’ll block all business in the chamber until Democrats tackle the long-overdue spending bills and tax increases impending at the end of this year, raising the level of brinksmanship to new heights.

In a letter signed by all 42 Republicans — including Sen. Mark Steven Kirk of Illinois, who was sworn in Monday — the senators said they’ll filibuster anything Democrats try to do “until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers.”

The move is meant to corner Democrats, who are divided over how to handle the tax cuts and who had hoped to move on to issues more friendly to them, such as a bill to legalize illegal immigrant students.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he’ll push ahead with those other bills anyway, saying that the Senate should work on other things while making progress on the spending and tax cut bills.

“I wish I could report we’re close to wrapping up action on these bills, but we’re not,” Mr. Reid said Wednesday after receiving the letter, which he said was meant as tactic to give Republicans who might otherwise support his priorities a reason to vote against them.

**FILE** Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican (AP Photo)
**FILE** Sen. Mark Steven Kirk, Illinois Republican (AP Photo) more >

On Tuesday, President Obama and congressional leaders agreed to form a six-person, high-level working group to try to hash out a final deal on tax cuts. They began meeting Wednesday morning, with a quick photo-op as they were convening.

But congressional aides said the real decision-making will happen when Senate Democrats decide how far they’ll need to bend in order to pass a bill.

Republicans are unified in calling for the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to be extended in full, while Democrats are divided. Some want to see the tax cuts for those making more than $250,000 expire, while others say raising taxes could damage the fragile economy further.

One compromise Senate Democrats floated this week was to raise the income level of those whose tax cuts will be extended to $1 million, but Republicans counter that that increase still will hurt some small businesses.

Even as Republicans professed unity on their two top priorities, some cracks were showing. Several Republicans said they also want to make sure unemployment benefits are extended for the long-term jobless.

Those benefits expired this week, and Republicans and Democrats have been sparring over an extension and how best to pay for it.