Ben Nelson (D-NE), the most conservative of the Senate’s 59 Democrats, became the first in his party to say he might side with Republicans on the Bush tax cuts, suggesting he might filibuster a tax bill that allowed tax cuts for the rich to expire.
“It would be very hard for me to support that,” Nelson told reporters outside the Senate chamber before a vote this evening.
Afterward, TPM asked him what tools he would use to ensure that the tax cuts for the rich are extended. “My vote,” he said.
Nelson’s not alone.
With a major political fight brewing over tax cuts for the rich, and all Bush tax cuts set to expire at the end of the year, key Senators today sought to clarify their positions on the main options before of them: should the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans be allowed to expire? Or should all the Bush tax cuts be extended, at least temporarily.
With progressives backing the former option, and Republicans and conservative Democrats set on the latter, the Senate is poised for yet another high-stakes legislative battle, weeks ahead of the November midterms.
Though he insisted this morning that he would do “everything I can to make sure Congress extends the so-called Bush tax cuts for another year,” Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-CT) made clear this evening that he would not block middle-class tax cuts as leverage for passing a fuller package.
“To me there’s very broad agreement on middle class tax cuts therefore we ought to get it done, and then we can argue about tax cuts for higher income people,” Lieberman said.
That’s President Obama’s position as well.
But it’s still unclear whether Democrats in the Senate will hold separate votes on the middle-class and high-income tax cuts. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell today introduced legislation to freeze tax rates at their current levels, and Democrats are still weighing several options.
If McConnell’s bill comes to the floor, though, it will likely need 60 votes to pass, and it’s tough to count 60 votes for any comprehensive tax cut plan in the Senate right now.
“When you have a huge national debt, when you have people who are unemployed, need to get to work, you do not — not this year, not next year or the following year — give tax breaks to millionaires or billionaires,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT). “That is obscene to my mind…. I will do my best to defeat that proposal.”
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at email@example.com.