- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Senate Democrats fought for political coverage yesterday by trying to attach to a spending bill the same popular tax-cut extensions Republicans have included in their contentious estate tax relief proposal.

Democrats vow they’ll defeat the estate tax bill, but they are trying to fight their way out of a politically difficult corner Republicans have backed them into.

Republicans crafted the bill — already approved by the House and scheduled for a Senate showdown tomorrow — that includes the estate tax relief which Democrats oppose, but also includes a popular minimum-wage increase and widely supported package of tax-cut extensions for teachers, businesses and college students.

Republicans are daring Democrats to vote against the popular items, warning this will be their only chance to address them this year. It’s not clear if Republicans will have the 60 votes tomorrow to overcome a Democratic block of the bill.

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid fought back yesterday by trying to attach the same popular tax-break items to the defense spending bill. His amendment fell on a technicality — it wasn’t related to the spending bill — but it allowed Mr. Reid to make the point that Democrats will fight to approve these tax-cut extensions this year, as long as they aren’t part of the Republican bill Democrats hate.

“My amendment shows that the Senate will not be blackmailed and provides an opportunity for every member of this body to show the American people that we hear, and are prepared to respond to, their needs,” said Mr. Reid, Nevada Democrat.

His office quickly sent out a news release that read, “Reid fights for middle-class tax relief.” The Reid proposal would have featured almost all of the same popular tax break extensions that are in the Republican bill — including tax breaks for businesses that conduct research and development, teachers who spend their own money on classroom supplies, employers who hire welfare recipients, and those who pay college tuition.

His proposal also included a few extra provisions Republicans had in their package, such as a tax deduction for timber companies and extension of a mining program that helps fund health care for some retired mine workers.

Democrats also fought back on the minimum-wage issue yesterday and will continue the drumbeat today.

They held a press event bashing Republicans for tying the wage increase to an estate tax break. They said the Republican bill actually cuts pay for some workers who rely on tips, and they vowed to keep fighting for a real minimum-wage increase once the Republican plan is defeated.

“That issue is alive and well and it’s going to come back,” Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said of the minimum wage, which hasn’t been raised in a decade.

Republicans said the Democrats’ strategy won’t work, and that tomorrow’s showdown is the only way voters will know if they support these popular items.

One Senate Republican aide said action on the bill could happen as early as today.

“It’s gut-check time,” said Sen. John Thune, South Dakota Republican.

“Friday is going to be it; [Democrats] are just sort of flailing away now,” said Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican.

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