The Morning Line: Senators Prepare for Weekend Showdown on Tax Cuts

BY David Chalian and Terence Burlij  December 3, 2010 at 8:14 AM EST

The Morning Line

If you didn’t get your fill of the tax-cut version of “Masterpiece Theater” yesterday in the House, fear not. You will have a chance to tune in to C-SPAN2 this weekend and catch Democratic senators trying to win a political argument in which the White House appears to have already conceded.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., filed cloture last night on two different bills aimed at giving his caucus the chance to vote on middle-class tax cuts only and allowing the tax cuts for the wealthy to expire. The fact that these votes will take place while President Obama and his administration are negotiating with Republicans to temporarily extend those very tax cuts for the wealthy seems lost on nobody.

“. . . the sense within both parties was that Democrats were essentially negotiating the terms of their major retreat on an issue that they once considered a slam-dunk on both substantive and political levels,” reports the New York Times.

The Times also reports that the White House is seeking an extension of unemployment benefits and some of the tax breaks from the stimulus bill as a part of any final deal reached between the parties.

The Washington Post reports on the direct talks taking place between the Obama White House and the Republican leadership on Capitol Hill, which may prove to have greater impact than the more public and formal negotiations between Secretary Geithner and a bipartisan team of negotiators from each side of the Capitol.

But the best reported detail about the Thursday night goings on in the Senate comes from The Hill’s Alexander Bolton. Sen. Reid was clearly less than pleased when he thought he had a deal with Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to bring competing Democratic and Republican tax-cut legislation to the floor Friday. When it became clear a Republican senator was going to filibuster, Reid sprung into action.

“A surprised Reid walked from the chamber into McConnell’s office to salvage the deal but McConnell had slipped out of the Capitol a few minutes before, strolling past a crowd of reporters.”

“Reid ate several chocolates in McConnell’s reception area while waiting for GOP aides to contact the leader, according to reporters who witnessed it.”

THE JOBS REPORT

Friday’s jobs report from the Labor Department will almost certainly figure into the political dealings over the weekend, as lawmakers grapple not just with extending tax cuts for individuals, families and small businesses, but unemployment benefits as well.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics found that employers added just 39,000 jobs in November, about 100,000 less than economists had expected. The unemployment rate, meanwhile, rose two-tenths of a point to 9.8 percent.

Republicans will likely use the news to hammer away at Democrats who want to let the tax cuts on the wealthy expire, with the argument being that doing so would have an adverse effect on small business owners who create jobs.

Democrats, in turn, will likely keep up the pressure on their GOP counterparts to pass an extension of unemployment insurance, which they contend provides a bigger “bang for the buck” than tax cuts for high-income Americans. The White House released a report Thursday that said failure to approve an extension would result in 2 million Americans losing benefits this month and almost 7 million next year. The report also found it could cost the country 600,000 jobs next year.

CAMPAIGN CASH

There’s an old saying that “money talks,” and it’s certainly true in politics, where cash on hand, debt and spending can tell you a lot about candidates, party leaders and national committees.

What the Federal Election Commission reports filed Thursday show is that Republican and Democratic campaign committees piled up millions of dollars in debt in the final days of the 2010 midterms.

The Washington Post’s Chris Cillizza dug through the documents and discovered that both the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee had upwards of $15 million in debt on financial statements from Oct. 14 to Nov. 22.

The folks over at Roll Call looked into the finances of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee and its counterpart, the National Republican Campaign Committee, and found both stepped up their borrowing as the election was coming to a close.

The DCCC ended the cycle will more than $19 million in debt and just $3.1 million cash on hand, while the NRCC reported $12 in debt and $4.7 million in the bank.

And while those numbers give us a sense of where we’ve been, the spending by Republican presidential hopefuls to GOP candidates could shed some light on where we’re going.

The National Journal reports former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney “contributed far more money to Republican candidates during the run-up to Election Day than the rest of the 2012 presidential pack.”

Palin led the way with $240,000 in donations to candidates and committees through her political action committee, SarahPAC. Romney’s $165,000 in contributions came from his federal PAC, Free and Strong America, and various state-based PACs that aren’t bound by tighter federal rules.