With the recent swearing in of Illinois Republican Senator Mark Kirk, the GOP now has 42 Senators – and all 42 are flexing their muscles in giving Senate Democrats an ultimatum on extending the Bush tax cuts before the end of the year:
Every Senate Republican has signed onto a letter vowing to block all Democratic-backed legislation until the chamber extends the Bush tax cuts and approves a spending bill to keep the government running, Fox News has learned.
Throwing down the gauntlet, all 42 members of the GOP caucus are sending the letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warning him that they will bring matters to a standstill unless he swiftly brings those tax-and-spending issues to the floor.
That means putting on the backburner a push to repeal the military’s policy banning gays from serving openly in the military, a bill giving illegal immigrant students and military members a pathway to legal status and an extension of long-term unemployment benefits.
“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,” they wrote. “Given our struggling economy, preventing the tax increase and providing economic certainty should be our top priority.”
A panel of administration officials and bipartisan lawmakers is getting to work Wednesday to try to hash out a compromise over what to do about the expiring Bush tax cuts. Democrats want them extended for all but the wealthy, while Republicans want them extended for everybody.
It’s not just Republicans who are concerned about the way the lame-duck session became a dumping ground for campaign promises and wish-list legislation.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., was caught on a hot mic in the Senate ripping the lame-duck agenda, which was set exclusively by his party, as “rigged” and done without a discussion among members.
Aside from the tax rates, lawmakers must pass this week a continuing resolution to keep the government functioning. Election-harried Democrats opted against producing a budget at all this year, preferring to punt questions on tax rates and spending until after Nov. 2. So, the government relies on a series of patches to keep operating. Similarly, lawmakers must vote on a supplemental appropriation to fund military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The filibuster threat increases pressure on the White House to offer a more realistic agenda for the remaining weeks of the year. For example, if Congress doesn’t act on the tax cuts, it means Republicans will be in position to enact their own, retroactive plan starting Jan. 1 without having to make any concessions to Democratic demands for upper-income earners.
Good to see this strong show of unity so soon after the Nov. 2nd “shellacking” the Democrats took nationwide.
It goes without saying, though, that it will not always be this way. Senator Kirk, for example, has already signaled the ‘moderate’ tone I anticipated he would with his vote in favor of the senior Senator from Illinois Dick Durbin’s food safety bill, a bill that some hardline conservatives like Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn opposed on grounds that it gave the FDA too much power but that nevertheless passed the Senate 73-25. Senator Richard Burr (R-NC) was an original co-sponsor of this bill and voted in favor of it. This was one of those “feel good” bills that even some so-called “conservatives” just couldn’t resist having their names on, I guess.
Anyway, even with more than just moderate GOP Senators voting for the food safety bill, there will be times in the future when Kirk will side with the more “moderate” Republicans like Scott Brown, Susan Collins, etc – on the opposite end of the battlefield from staunch conservative Senators like Jim DeMint and Coburn. This same situation is going to happen in the House, too, with some newly-elected GOPers and it’s going to be really frustrating for those of us who have been brimming with cautious optimism over the Republican wins last month in terms of the opportunities that now exist to reverse the damaging, dangerous course the Obama administration and Democrat “leaders” have been taking this country on for the last 2 years (actually 4, when you think about the 2 years the left had control of both chambers of Congress prior to the election of our celebrity President). But just remember there are times when having even moderates in the House and Senate are beneficial – there is strength in numbers, and this line-in-the-sand by Senate Republicans on the issue of extending the Bush tax cuts is one of those times.