Deal on Extending Tax Cuts Appears on the Horizon

BY David Chalian  December 6, 2010 at 8:28 AM EST

Democratic Senators

From left, Senate Democrats Jack Reed, Mark Begich, Ben Cardin, Sherrod Brown, Charles Schumer, Frank Lautenberg and Al Franken hold a news conference Saturday at the Capitol. Photo by Bill Clark/Roll Call.

The Morning Line

Almost as soon as President George W. Bush signed them into law, his tax cuts aimed at the wealthiest Americans became a favorite Democratic target.

Every Democratic presidential contender in the 2003-2004 battle for the nomination planned to pay for their policy priorities, in part, by rolling back the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy. That same revenue stream was also tapped by Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden and the other Democrats running in 2007-2008 for their spending plans for health care and energy policies.

So for two presidential campaign cycles, the Democratic Party told the country what it wanted to accomplish and that it could pay for it all by scrapping the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy.

So much for that.

A deal on tax cuts appears to be nearly done after Senate Democrats proved on Saturday that they didn’t have the votes to pass an extension of the cuts only up to annual income totaling $250,000 for families and $200,000 for individuals.

President Obama is attempting to hang on to his disappointed Democratic base by insisting on an extension of unemployment insurance and middle class tax cuts (from the 2009 stimulus bill) in an inevitable agreement that temporarily extends the Bush-era tax cuts.

The New York Times leads with “frustrated” Democrats left in the wake of the deal.

“White House officials and Congressional Republicans said Sunday they were closing in on a deal to temporarily continue the Bush-era tax cuts at all income levels, while bitterly frustrated Democratic Congressional leaders began exploring whether they would have the votes for such a package.”

“Extension deal taxes Dems’ patience,” reads POLITICO’s headline.

Watch the votes in both chambers carefully to see if more Republicans end up supporting the deal than President Obama’s fellow Democrats.

STOP AND START

As the debate over tax cuts slogs on, the rest of the lame-duck agenda, including consideration of the New START arms control treaty, remains stuck in neutral.

The Republican point-man on New START, Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl, said Sunday that the treaty would not be ratified before Congress adjourns for the year because Democrats have too many other priorities they wish to address.

“There is not time to do it in the lame duck,” Kyl told CBS News.

But it seems not everyone in the Republican Party agrees. Indiana’s Richard Lugar, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told CNN Sunday that he believed there was “strong bipartisan support” for a lame-duck vote on the treaty.

Senate Democrats also predicted the Senate would reach a deal on New START by the end of the year. Appearing Sunday on CBS, Majority Whip Dick Durbin accused Kyl of making the task more difficult by shifting his position on how much time was needed to debate the treaty.

“Whatever it takes, we’re going to get this done,” Durbin said.

Two-thirds of Senators would need to vote in favor of the treaty for it to be ratified. President Obama has said approval of the measure is one of his top priorities for the lame-duck session of Congress.

MODERN PRESIDENTS

John F. Kennedy is still the highest-rated modern president and Richard Nixon is still the lowest. But there has been some movement elsewhere in the ranks according to a new Gallup poll released Monday.

Kennedy’s retrospective approval rating stands at 85 percent, one point higher than in 2006, the last time the survey was taken. Ronald Reagan comes in second with an approval rating of 74 percent, up three points from four years ago.

The former president losing the most ground was Jimmy Carter, who fell from third to sixth after losing 9 points in his approval ratings, going from 61 in 2006 to 52 this year.

Perceptions of Bill Clinton and George H.W. Bush, meanwhile, continue to improve. Clinton and Bush both saw their numbers climb by eight points since 2006. Clinton now ranks third with an approval rating of 69 percent. Bush is fourth at 64 percent.

In his first appearance in the poll since leaving office, George W. Bush posted an approval rating of 47 percent, placing him eighth. Only Nixon, at 29 percent, has a lower rating.

If there’s a silver lining for Bush, it’s that his retrospective approval rating is 13 points higher than his final approval rating while in office.

Bush’s retrospective approval rating also doesn’t appear to be hurting his book sales, as his “Decision Points” memoir remains atop the New York Times Best Seller list.

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