Republicans and Democrats in the Senate both say they're eager to vote on President Obama's plan to extend tax cuts for most Americans and raise rates on the wealthy - but they can't seem to agree on how or when to hold the vote.
Early Wednesday, Republicans tried to force a vote on both Mr. Obama's plan and a GOP plan to extend all tax cuts for a year, hoping to drive a wedge between Democrats and their party's leader.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, blocked that move, drawing chuckles from the GOP, which said he was fighting Mr. Obama.
Later in the day, however, Mr. Reid came back to the floor and offered to have votes - one on the president's plan and one on Republicans' plan - but would have also required votes on another small-business bill the GOP is not yet finished debating.
Mr. McConnell objected, saying Democrats haven't even written Mr. Obama's tax plan into a bill yet, so a vote is premature.
"We'd be happy to set up a vote on this critical issue, just as soon as the majority produces a bill to show us what tax increases they have in mind," Mr. McConnell said.
Seeking to refocus the tax debate, Mr. Obama on Monday called for Congress to pass a bill that would extend the Bush-era tax cuts for most Americans for one more year, but would allow rates to rise for households making $250,000 or more.
He said the two sides should at least take care of the middle class, and then they can fight over the tax cuts for the richest Americans later.
But the GOP is insisting all of the tax cuts be tied together, saying that allowing rates to rise on the wealthy will hurt small-business owners, many of whom pay taxes under the individual code. They are proposing a one-year extension, which they said would give enough breathing space to take up a complete tax code overhaul.
Mr. Reid said extending cuts for everyone means the wealthy would benefit.
"It's the 'help Paris Hilton' legislation," he said. "It would give people like her a tax break for doing nothing - $46 billion of the American people's money to help Paris Hilton and others."
Late Wednesday, one member of his caucus, Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, said he'll vote against both GOP and Obama plans, and said he wants to see the broad tax overhaul done now.
"I think we can do better than that this year. We can cut spending and adopt tax reform and entitlement reform," he said.
While the two sides fight over timing of the tax vote, the Senate is debating a bill that would give a payroll tax cut to businesses, based on how much they expand their payrolls. The tax cut is capped so that it would chiefly be felt by small businesses.
Mr. Reid used parliamentary moves Wednesday to block all amendments and limit debate, virtually ensuring Republicans will filibuster the measure.
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