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Obama's Long Game Brings Short-Term Tax Drama

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Obama's Long Game Brings Short-Term Tax Drama


Obama's Long Game Brings Short-Term Tax Drama

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News, I'm Scott Simon.

President Barack Obama's deal with Republicans to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts has prompted plenty of outrage - including a filibuster on the Senate floor.

Vermont independent Bernie Sanders, the only self-described socialist in Congress, held the floor for hours on end yesterday, railing against the deal to extend tax breaks in upper income brackets.

At the White House yesterday, former President Bill Clinton offered his support for the deal. Mr. Obama and his predecessor made a surprise visit to the White House briefing room after a private meeting. Mr. Clinton then held court with reporters for nearly half an hour.

The Senate is set to vote on the tax agreement next week, but House Democrats may persist on changes.

NPR's David Welna has the latest on the race to settle the dispute on tax cuts before they expire three weeks from now.

DAVID WELNA: When Senator Sanders rose to speak on the Senate floor at around 10:30 in the morning yesterday, 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 then took direct aim at the tax breaks for the wealthy that would be extended for two years under the deal Senate Republicans made with President Obama.

Senator BERNIE SANDERS (Independent, Vermont): Republican colleagues want huge tax breaks for the richest people in this country, but the reality is that the top one percent already - today - owns more wealth than the bottom 90 percent. How much more do they want? When is enough enough? You want it all?

WELNA: 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.

Senator MARY LANDRIEU: (Democrat, Louisiana): 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.

WELNA: 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.

Senator SHERROD BROWN (Democrat, Ohio): 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.

WELNA: In an interview with NPR's MORNING EDITION, President Obama acknowledged what he's proposed is not written in stone.

President BARACK OBAMA: 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.

WELNA: 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.

Senator JON KYL (Republican, Arizona): 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.

WELNA: 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 wrote 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.

Representative LLOYD DOGGETT (Democrat, Texas): 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. It doesn't satisfy all of them, but realizing it's late in the negotiation, it would be an important improvement.

WELNA: 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 does not bother Senator Sanders.

Sen. SANDERS: If it means staying here through Christmas Eve, through New Year's, that is our job.

WELNA: And that job, he added, is to get the tax extension right.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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