The lame-duck Congress careened Thursday toward a conclusion after lawmakers cleared the nice-but-not-essential bills out of the way and settled down to the serious work on the must-pass tax-cut legislation.
Senate Democrats and Republicans wrote a bill that follows the contours of the tax-cut deal President Obama struck this week with Republicans, and have set up a Monday vote to break a filibuster led by liberal Democrats. The package would extend most of the Bush-era tax cuts, extend unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and establish a one-year payroll-tax break.
An early test-vote Thursday night to allow the tax-cut package to be brought to the Senate floor passed 65-11.
But even as Senate Democratic leaders pushed for the bill, House Democrats held a symbolic vote to oppose the president’s deal, effectively kneecapping their party leader.
“The House was not consulted during the negotiations that produced this package, and our support cannot be taken for granted, now or in the future,” said Rep. Raul M. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, after the House Democratic Caucus, by voice vote, approved a resolution urging their leaders not to bring Mr. Obama’s version of the deal to the House floor.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, tried to portray the vote as a rejection of Republicans’ position, rather than Mr. Obama’s deal.
“In the caucus today, House Democrats supported a resolution to reject the Senate Republican tax provisions as currently written,” she said. “We will continue discussions with the president and our Democratic and Republican colleagues in the days ahead to improve the proposal before it comes to the House floor for a vote.”
Still, Mr. Obama told NPR News on Thursday that the final package will look like the deal he struck.
“I’m confident that the framework is going to look like the one that we put forward.”
The tax fight and the spending bills to keep the government running through the rest of fiscal year 2011 are the dominant issues remaining for Congress after Thursday, when filibusters and other procedural moves culled much of the rest of Democrats’ agenda.
The tax bills ups and downs capped a chaotic day, even by the standards of an already unruly lame-duck session of Congress that has seen many items on Democrats’ wish list fall to Senate filibusters or Democratic leaders’ own scheduling problems.
On Thursday, Senate Republicans led a filibuster to block the defense-policy bill, effectively ending the chance for Democrats to overturn the military’s policy preventing gays from serving openly in the armed forces. And the GOP also blocked a bill to spend $7 billion on health costs for first responders and other New Yorkers who got sick after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack.
In the House, lawmakers easily cleared a bill to prevent a 25 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.
Meanwhile, in the equivalent of shooting a wounded horse, Senate Democrats realized they had misjudged the legislative process and voted to table their own immigration bill, at least temporarily delaying their effort to legalizehundreds of thousandsof illegal-immigrant children and young adults.
“It’s a waste of the Senate’s time,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, after realizing that the legislation he wanted the Senate to vote on was different than the bill the House passed late Wednesday.