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Today in Washington – December 2, 2010

Keeping taxes low is finally front and center on the Congressional agenda.  Today, Democrats in the House are pushing for a vote Obama version of limited tax relief for American families making under $250,000 and individuals making under $200,000.  Republicans in Congress are pledging to fight for tax cuts for job creators making more than that amount and retention of lower rates on capital gains, dividends and the death tax.  Negotiations continue between the White House and Congress on a final deal.  Conservatives want the Obama Tax Increases of 2011 to be stopped.

The Senate does not have any votes scheduled for today, but must take action before the end of the week on a Continuing Resolution keeping the government funded through December 18th.  The House has a vote on tax cuts, a hunger measure, a Censure Resolution on the case of Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-NY) and 11 matters on the Suspension Calendar.  The Senate Armed Services Committee will have a hearing on “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.”

Republicans in the Senate have pledged to filibuster all legislation, with the exception of the issues of extension of tax cuts and appropriations measures, until this tax debate is resolved.

USA Today reports:

A day after they agreed to seek middle ground, Republicans and Democrats in Congress went on the attack over the agenda for the rest of the year, including whether to extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans. The battle over priorities for the year-end, “lame duck” session appeared to push back the timetable for extending the benefits, which expired Tuesday, and left Democrats scrambling for a way to advance the measure. About 2 million Americans would lose benefits by the end of the month if Congress doesn’t act, and millions more could be cut off next year. “Passing unemployment insurance is a moral imperative, not a political deal,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., who argued that the benefits help to stimulate the economy.

The deal making in Washington has begun and a final deal may not be something that conservatives like.  Many conservatives are worried that Senate Republicans are prepared to punt on the New START Treaty without receiving assurances and information requested from the Administration with regard to the future of missile defense.  Also, conservatives worry that an extension of a multi-billion dollar unemployment benefits will not be offset by cutting other areas of federal spending.  Add in the possibility of Congress considering the recommendations of the President’s Debt Commission and the proposed deal sounds like a bad deal for most Americans.

The New START Treaty may become a bargaining chip for Senate Republicans to get a deal on a 2 or 3 year extension of the 2001/03 tax cuts.  The Associated Press reports that all 42 Republicans signed a letter pledging to filibuster legislation, yet that pledge to block does not apply to the New START Treaty.

“While there are other items that might ultimately be worthy of the Senate’s attention, we cannot agree to prioritize any matters above the critical issues of funding the government and preventing a job-killing tax hike,” all 42 GOP senators wrote in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. The 42 signatures are more than enough to block action on almost any item he wishes to advance.  The threat does not apply to a new arms control treaty with Russia that is pending, since it would be debated under rules that differ from those that apply to routine legislation. President Barack Obama has made ratification of the pact a top priority.

There has to be a good faith negotiation and Republicans have already given ground on a short term extension of all tax cuts.  Allowing the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” passing the fatally flawed New START Treaty and a non offset extension of unemployment benefits will send a message to the Tea Party movement that some of these politicians in Washington still just don’t get it.

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