Backed into a corner by members of their own party, Democratic leaders in Congress are poised to drop plans to take up the Bush-era tax cuts before the November election.
While Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has not officially thrown in the towel on the measure, even some of the most loyal members of his caucus, including Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., and John Kerry, D-Mass., said Thursday they were not in favor of a pre-election vote.
The measure has stalled because Reid has been unable to find common ground on the tax issue among members of his caucus. Some of them back the Obama administration's view that the extension should exclude those making more than $200,000 and couples earning more than $250,000, while other Democrats and all Senate Republicans want the cuts prolonged for everybody.
"Republicans will filibuster one thing and we don't have enough votes for the other," Kerry told reporters.
Kerry said senators don't like the idea of taking a politically painful vote that has no chance of passing.
Reid said earlier this month that he planned to try to take up the bill before Congress adjourns to campaign, but it is looking more likely both chambers will quit working as early as next week. Senate Majority Whip Richard Durbin, D-Ill., told reporters Thursday the chance of taking up the tax bill before leaving in October are "very, very slim."
Democratic leaders had hoped to put the tax extensions for lower-income earners on the Senate floor for a vote so that when it failed, they could blame Republicans for blocking middle class tax cuts as they headed out the door for the campaign trail. But they ran into trouble when many in their own caucus said they also wanted the tax cuts extended to all income levels.
Dozens of House members, many of them vulnerable freshmen and sophomores, told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., they want the extension provided for all income levels. Their sheer numbers present Pelosi with a dilemma because if she puts the bill on the House floor with just the lower-income cuts extended, Republicans would almost certainly be able to win enough votes among Democrats to amend it with an alternative provision that includes the upper-income earners.
"For the moment, I think we should not raise taxes on anyone because to do so works against the overriding objection of getting the economy going at a faster pace," said Rep. Rick Boucher, D-Va. "I would vote for an alternative that extends the tax cuts for everyone."
House Democratic leaders said they would not take action on the tax bill until the Senate votes on it and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., signaled Thursday the House is unlikely to act before November.
"Our position is very clear," Hoyer said. "We don't need to have a vote to let the American public know where we stand."
It now appears most likely that the Senate will have to deal with the tax cut extensions in the "lame duck" session that will take place after the election.
"We know we are going to do it," Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said. "It's definitely going to be done before the end of the year."