- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2010

Lawmakers ramped up the rhetoric Thursday regarding a series of Bush-era tax breaks set to expire at the end of the year, as leaders of both parties refused to budge on what to do with cuts for higher-wage earners.

House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer of Maryland told his Democratic colleagues in a private meeting Thursday that they would get a chance to vote on just extending the tax cuts for middle-class Americans, as opposed to a single vote on extending the cuts for all tax brackets, a senior Democratic House aide said.

“The House will vote on an extension of middle-class tax cuts before they expire,” Mr. Hoyer said. “We cannot afford to add $700 billion to the deficit to benefit the wealthiest Americans with almost no economic benefit, as Republicans want to do.”

The proposed vote, which likely would take place in December, clashes with Republicans’ continued demand that the tax breaks continue for all Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, promised he would allow a vote on a Republican proposal that calls for across-the-board tax cuts, but said that his party - which controls the chamber - also will offer alternative plans for temporary or permanent middle-class tax cuts.

“I’m not speaking for the [Senate Democratic] caucus in this regard, [but] I could go for either a short-term extension of the middle-income tax cuts or making them permanent,” he said.

But Mr. Reid cautioned against extending the cuts indefinitely “because we have to focus on what the economy may be in the future.” He said the Republican plan would add $4 trillion to the debt, which he said is something the country cannot afford if Congress is serious about getting the nation’s financial house in order.

Republicans remain united in their stance to block Democratic measures that don’t continue all the tax cuts.

When House Minority Leader John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican - who will be House speaker when the next Congress convenes in January - was asked Thursday how he expected the situation to play out, he answered with a single sentence: “I believe that we ought to extend all of the current tax rates for all Americans.”

Lawmakers have less than seven weeks before tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush expire. Democratic leaders want to extend only the lower rates for individuals earning less than $200,000 or couples making less than $250,000, while Republicans want to extend the breaks for taxpayers in all income brackets.

About 2 percent to 3 percent of Americans fit into the upper-income categories.

Reporter Seth McLaughlin contributed to this article.

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