Senate Republicans today successfully filibustered two Democratic tax cut bills that would have allowed Bush-era tax cuts benefiting only the wealthiest sliver of the country to expire. The party-line votes were intended by Democratic leaders to put Republicans on the record blocking the extension of tax cuts that would have benefited all Americans in order to secure additional tax cuts for the highest-income earners in America.
Today’s result was never in doubt. At a press conference yesterday, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY), who masterminded the votes, characterized today’s exercise as part of a long-running argument between Democrats and Republicans — one that voters will judge on election day in 2012. “This is going to be a winning argument not just for the next one to two weeks, but for the next two years,” he said.
The two bills that failed were similar, but served very different purposes. The first, to preserve the Bush-era tax cuts for income up to $250,000, was passed by the House earlier this week, and would have represented a fulfillment of President Obama’s campaign pledge to allow taxes to increase for income above that level. The second would have raised that threshold to $1,000,000. Its purpose was meant to emphasize the lengths Republicans will go to to protect the interests of millionaires.
Sens. Jim Webb (D-VA), Ben Nelson (D-NE), Joe Manchin (D-WV), Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) voted with the Republicans on the former plan. The vote was 53-36. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tom Harkin (D-IA) Lieberman and Feingold voted with the GOP on the second. That vote was 53-37, and reflected progressives’ unease with redefining the middle class at the $1,000,000 income threshold.
In recent days, the White House has publicly and privately pushed back on Schumer’s plan as they negotiated a compromise with the GOP. The details of that compromise haven’t been finalized. But the White House is thought have offered to allow all the Bush tax cuts to be extended temporarily, if Republicans will agree to a year-long extension of unemployment benefits and to tax breaks in the stimulus bill, to provide much-needed juice to the economy.
Republicans have threatened to block all Democratic legislation until the tax cut issue is resolved, pressing them to cave before time runs out on other key initiatives like the ratification of the START treaty and the repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.