Democrats said Sunday they'll put off until after the elections a vote on whether to extend the Bush tax cuts, leaving most taxpayers in limbo for months as to whether they'll face tax increases at the beginning of next year.
A top Senate Democrat said they haven't been able to win the votes to extend only the lower-income tax cuts in the face of Republicans and Democrats who want to see all the tax cuts kept in place. A top House Democrat said that with no action from the Senate, there's no reason for the House to take the vote now.
"We can count, and we know we don't have 60 votes for our tax position," Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin, Illinois Democrat, told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday. "We want to basically say after the election when we still face a deadline, by the end of the year, we'll take up all of these tax issues. That to me is the only realistic way to address it."
The tax cuts have become a defining issue heading into November's elections, with Republicans appearing unified in calling for the entire slate of Bush-era cuts to be extended in the middle of the economic slump.
They've been joined by a significant number of Democrats in both the House and Senate who say now is not the time to raise taxes. Republicans said if a tax cut bill were brought to the floor under open rules of debate, Congress would vote to extend all the cuts.
But Democratic leaders, not wanting to suffer a legislative defeat before the election or to give up the additional federal revenue that would be lost if the tax cuts are extended, balked. They have accused Republicans of holding the middle-income tax cuts "hostage" in order to keep taxes low across the board, including for high-income taxpayers.
Democrats said they will return for a lame-duck session of Congress after the elections and vowed to tackle the issue then, after voters have made their wishes known in the election.
"Democrats have absolutely pledged, and will make sure before the end of this year, the Republican increase on middle-income taxes will not go into effect," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, Maryland Democrat, told "Fox News Sunday."
Mr. Hoyer said he labeled it a "Republican increase" because under President George W. Bush, Republicans structured the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to expire in 2010 in order to fit within budget rules.
In both of those years, Republicans weren't able to muster the 60 votes to make the tax cuts permanent, so under budget rules they had to sunset eventually.
This year, it's Democrats who are in control and are having trouble mustering the 60-vote threshold to extend just some of the tax cuts, but not all of them.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, said the blame for the situation falls entirely on Democrats, who have sizable majorities in both chambers.
"It was the Democrats themselves who decided not to have this debate," he said on ABC's "This Week." "The question is, do we want to raise taxes in the middle of a very, very tough economy? All the Republicans think that's a bad idea, and a substantial number of the Democrats think the same thing."
Waiting until after the election to act could raise a situation where voters embrace Republicans' policies but Democrats who are still in control of the chamber fight for their priorities.
Mr. Hoyer said that's the way Congress works and members are elected for a full term. Still, he said, "I don't think we're going to make any decisions against the will of the American public."
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