Senate Set to Send Tax Bill to House

BY David Chalian  December 15, 2010 at 8:33 AM EDT

Sens. John Barrasso, Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander

From left: Republican Sens. John Barrasso, Mitch McConnell and Lamar Alexander prepare to speak to the media Tuesday at the Capitol. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

As the Senate prepared Wednesday to give final approval to the $858 billion tax cut deal brokered by President Obama and congressional Republicans, liberal House Democrats opposed to the measure signaled that prospects for making changes to the package were bleak.

The vote on final passage in the Senate is set for 12 p.m. EST Wednesday and is expected to gain even stronger bipartisan support than Monday’s test vote, which saw 83 senators agree to move forward with debate.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who’s up for reelection in 2012, said he voted “no” on Monday to “send a message” to House Democrats that they had “allies” in the Senate. But he indicated Tuesday that he was leaning toward supporting the measure.

The proposal would preserve all of the Bush-era income tax breaks for two years, extend jobless benefits through 2011, reduce the Social Security payroll tax rate by 2 percent for one year and exempt estates up to $5 million, with a top rate of 35 percent after that.

The estate tax provision and the continuation of tax cuts for wealthy Americans have raised fierce objections from some House Democrats. But a week after the Democratic caucus voted against bringing the compromise to the floor unless changes were made, liberal members now concede the momentum is against them.

“The bottom line is that it is a fast moving train and that has become clear and Washington is doing what it is finding easy to do,” Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., said in an interview with the Hill.

But some have clearly not given up the fight, even with public opinion polls showing nearly 70 percent of Americans supporting the agreement. Maryland Democratic Rep. Chris Van Hollen takes aim at the estate tax measure in a Washington Post editorial Wednesday:

“House Democrats are committed to getting the best possible deal for taxpayers and ensuring that taxes on working families don’t go up on Jan. 1. But we also don’t think it’s fiscally responsible or fair to provide a tax-cut bonanza to super-rich estates.”

Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell has warned House lawmakers that any changes to the package could scuttle the whole deal and result in taxes going up on nearly all Americans next year.

PARTING GIFT

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and her fellow Democrats are handing over the reins of power to the Republicans just as the Gallup organization is out with a record low approval rating for Congress:

“Americans’ assessment of Congress has hit a new low, with 13% saying they approve of the way Congress is handling its job. The 83% disapproval rating is also the worst Gallup has measured in more than 30 years of tracking congressional job performance.”

But the polling history on congressional approval when House control changes hands bodes well for a possible mini-honeymoon for incoming speaker John Boehner and his team.

More from Gallup on the trend:

“Despite the historic lows, the prospects for a recovery in Congress’ approval ratings in the short term appear good, based on what Gallup has measured in the past when control of Congress changed hands. Gallup documented a 10-point increase in Congress’ approval rating from December 1994 to January 1995 after the Republicans officially took control of the House and Senate after the 1994 midterm elections. There was a larger 14-point increase in congressional approval ratings after the Democrats’ taking control of Congress in January 2007.”

RAHM’S RESIDENCY

After working on a daily basis to solve global and domestic crises and advance President Obama’s agenda, former White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel must feel like he’s entered Bizarro World.

“[F]or 12 hours Tuesday, he faced grilling by experienced lawyers and amateur activists about whether he’s really a Chicago resident under state law requiring candidates reside in the city for a year before the Feb. 2 election. By the end, he was rubbing his eyes, leaning his head back and asking to use the restroom,” writes Abdon Pallasch of the Chicago Sun Times.

Emanuel and his team are certain that he’s eligible to run for mayor of Chicago despite the questions surrounding his residency. But the day-long show trial clearly put Emanuel in a defensive position — one that he likely would have preferred stayed off of television screens throughout Chicago.

A well-timed Chicago Tribune poll may help Emanuel mitigate some of that coverage. He is way out in front, with 32 percent of those polled supporting him. Every other contender is in single digits. But with 30 percent of the electorate still undecided, the race remains quite fluid and appears to be headed for an April runoff.

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