- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 5, 2010

Congressional leaders of both parties suggested Sunday that they could reach a deal to extend all Bush-era tax rates as early as this week and that it would include an agreement by Republicans to also extend unemployment benefits for millions of jobless Americans.

“I think that most folks believe that the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed and an extension of all of the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time,” said Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican. “I think an agreement could be reached in the relatively near future.”

Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, acknowledged that negotiations are “moving in that direction,” though he said this was against his judgment and added that he could not accept a deal in Congress’ lame-duck session that failed to include extended jobless benefits.

“The notion that we would give tax cuts to those making over $1 million a year, which is the Republican position, then turn our backs on 2 million Americans who will lose unemployment benefits before Christmas, 127,000 in the state of Illinois, is unconscionable,” he said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” during the same segment as Mr. Kyl. “It could happen. I’m not going to rule it out.”

Though the Senate voted Saturday against two House plans to extend the Bush-era rates — one that would apply only to Americans making less than $250,000 annually and another to apply only to those making less than $1 million a year — House and Senate leaders have been working behind closed doors to reach a deal with the Obama administration since attending a White House meeting Tuesday with Mr. Obama.

Still, the parties disagree about whether the changes in tax rates made in 2001 and 2003 should be extended temporarily or permanently.

“I’m not voting for any permanent tax cut for people at the highest-income categories,” said Mr. Durbin, the chamber’s second-highest-ranking Democrat.

Mr. Kyl, Arizona Republican and one of the six behind-the-scenes negotiators, said only that the rate, which expires Jan. 1, needs to be extended for “some period of time.”

“It’s almost Christmas Eve,” he added. “I don’t think anybody thinks that we can leave this thing hanging.” He also acknowledged that such an agreement could be reached this week.

Said Mr. Durbin: “There’s nothing that motivates members of Congress more than the thought of a recess or going home.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell also was upbeat Sunday about reaching a deal.

“I’m optimistic it’ll come together,” the Kentucky Republican said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “It’s pretty clear taxes are not going up on anybody in the middle of this recession.”

He also said he would prefer a permanent extension of the rate, though that would be unrealistic.

“Obviously, the president won’t sign a permanent extension of the current tax rate, so we’re going to have some kind of an extension,” he said. “I’d like one as long as possible.”

Asked whether Republicans would compromise to extend jobless benefits, Mr. McConnell said, “I think the American people expect us to work together to make sure their taxes don’t go up, and we’re working on that package.”

Sen. Richard G. Lugar, Indiana Republican, credited the president with reaching out to Republicans in hopes of striking a deal.

“My understanding is that the meetings that President Obama has had have certainly had an element of reaching out,” he said Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “And I think that has been appreciated.”

Mr. Lugar also acknowledged that Mr. McConnell must deal with some conservatives who seem to oppose the president on every issue, and he cautioned fellow Republicans that their party must never become “the party of no.”

He also cautioned Democrats about their use of the lame-duck session, saying his colleagues want an assurance that the session would be limited to tax legislation, a broad spending measure and a Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia. If Republicans get that assurance, he said, the pact can pass with “strong bipartisan support.”

“The votes are there,” said Mr. Lugar, who also is ranking Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.