Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said congressional leaders and White House negotiators are discussing a way to vote on extending Bush-era tax cuts and the ratification of an arms treaty with Russia before year-end.
McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the tax and nuclear treaty may take precedence over issues awaiting Senate action including an immigration bill and legislation to let gays and lesbians to serve openly in the military.
“All of those items are under discussion as we try to figure out how to wrap up the session,” McConnell said in an interview.
A deal would create a path to completing this year’s congressional business, including a measure to finance the government until the new Congress takes office in January. Many Democratic initiatives would fall short of enactment.
McConnell and the Senate’s 41 other Republicans said this week they would block votes on all legislation that doesn’t extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers and financing for the government. Senate Democrats, who control 58 seats, would need to attract at least two Republicans to advance any legislation.
The legislative maneuvering threatened to delay a vote on a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia until the new Congress, when Republicans gain five additional seats. President Barack Obama is pressing the Senate to act before the end of the year, calling the treaty “fundamental” to the nation’s security.
‘More Than 67’
Vice President Joe Biden told reporters today that if the treaty comes to the Senate floor, “we’ll get more than 67” votes, the two-thirds majority needed to ratify the accord.
Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander, the third-ranking Senate Republican, said he would support such a calendar-clearing deal only if it provided enough time for debate on the treaty.
“We’re talking about a major nuclear treaty, I’d say a week at least” on the floor, Alexander said. He also said while he favors making the tax cuts permanent, he could accept a two- year extension.
A six-member bipartisan panel began negotiating on extending the Bush-era tax cuts this week, holding two meetings yesterday and scheduling another for today. Unless Congress acts by Dec. 31, taxes will increase across the board in January.
The negotiators are trying to broker an agreement between the White House, which favors extending Bush tax policies only for the first $200,000 of income for individuals and $250,000 of income for married couples, and Republicans who support extending all of the tax cuts.
The House today is voting on extensions only on the first $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for married couples.
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