Obama's Long Game Brings Short-Term Tax Drama

Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) filibusters the Obama-GOP tax-cut compromise on Friday. C-SPAN.org hide caption

itoggle caption C-SPAN.org

President Obama's deal with Republicans to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts has prompted plenty of outrage — including an old-fashioned filibuster on the Senate floor Friday.

The Senate is set to vote on that agreement next week, but House Democrats may insist on changes. Can they settle their dispute on tax cuts before they expire three weeks from now?

Vermont Independent Sen. Bernie Sanders, the only self-described socialist in Congress, held the Senate floor for hours on end Friday, railing against the deal's tax breaks for the rich.

When Sanders rose to speak on the Senate floor at around 10:30 a.m., he announced he was going to take as much time as he could to explain to the American public that Congress had to come up with a better deal on the tax cuts. He took direct aim at the tax breaks for the wealthy that would be extended for two years under the deal Senate Republicans made with Obama.

"Republican colleagues want huge tax breaks for the richest people in this country, but the reality is that the top 1 percent already — today — owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent," he said. "How much more do they want? When is enough enough? You want it all?"

It was more soliloquy than debate, since none of the tax deal's supporters came to the floor to defend it. Sanders did get some help, though, from one of the Senate's most conservative Democrats, Louisiana's Mary Landrieu. She acknowledged being one of a dozen Senate Democrats who voted nearly a decade ago for the now-expiring tax cuts, at a time when the government was still running a surplus.

"But I actually cannot remember a time on either an appropriations bill of this magnitude, or a tax bill of this magnitude, that we've been asked to cast a vote for something that on its face is so, so reckless, so unnecessary," she said.

Landrieu said she still had not decided whether she'd vote for or against the tax cut package, since it also extends unemployment benefits and cuts the payroll tax for a year. Ohio Democrat Sherrod Brown also joined the talk-a-thon, which will likely end with a Senate vote on Monday.

"We need to call the president, to write the president, to work with the president to say 'No deal,' and that this has got to be something very different from what it is now," he said.

In an interview with Morning Edition, President Obama acknowledged what he has proposed is not written in stone.

"My sense is, is that there are going to be discussions between both House and Senate leadership about all the final elements of the package. Keep in mind, we didn't actually write a bill. We put forward a framework. I'm confident that the framework is going to look like the one that we put forward," he said.

A number of tax incentives for clean energy have already been added to the Senate's version of the tax cut package.

Arizona Republican Jon Kyl negotiated much of the deal with the White House. He expects his GOP colleagues will try to make changes in the package on the Senate floor.

"If they have an opportunity to cast some votes, then I think it'll be a lot easier at the end of the day to get the votes to pass it. But if you try to jam it — no debate, no amendments, no time to explain yourself — then it could be a lot more difficult," Kyl said.

House Democrats approved a resolution this week vowing they won't bring the tax cut package up for a vote in its current form. Texas Congressman Lloyd Doggett co-authored that resolution. He says the terms of the estate tax in the deal are far too generous, and he and other Democrats want to replace them with a larger estate tax that the House approved last year.

"I think that would be a real advance if we could do that. That would satisfy many of the concerns I have and that others have," Doggett said. "It doesn't satisfy all of them, but realizing it's late in the negotiation, it would be an important improvement."

If the House does make such a change, it would also have to be approved by the Senate.  All of which means Congress will likely stay in session beyond its target adjournment of next Friday. That doesn't bother Sanders.

"If it means staying here through Christmas Eve, through New Year's, that is our job," he said. And that job, he added, is to get the tax extension right.

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