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Democrats Are Seeking Changes to Tax Deal, Reid Says

U.S. President Barack Obama
U.S. President Barack Obama. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

Senate Democrats are seeking changes to a tax-cut agreement President Barack Obama reached with Republican lawmakers, said Majority Leader Harry Reid, who hopes to bring the measure to the floor this week.

Some changes “would make the bill much better, and I’m going to work on those,” Reid of Nevada told reporters after meeting with members of his party today to discuss the plan. He said he hopes the Senate would take the measure up “in the next day or two.” Asked whether the Senate would have the votes to pass the measure, he said, “I hope so.”

The proposed two-year extension of Bush-era tax cuts for all income levels has prompted division among congressional Democrats. Vice President Joe Biden, who met with Senate Democrats yesterday to try to sell the proposal, conducted a session with House Democrats today.

“The vice president said this is the deal, take it or leave it,” said Representative Henry Waxman of California.

Representative Jim Moran, a Virginia Democrat, said the meeting was “contentious.” “A majority of the Democratic caucus is disappointed with the deal and the way it was done.”

Representative Gerald Connolly, also a Virginia Democrat, said many of his colleagues are nonetheless “prepared to support the package, perhaps holding their nose.”

Exploring Options

Representative Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, part of the House Democratic leadership team, said his party is “exploring our options.”

Senator John Cornyn of Texas, a member of the Republican leadership, said he expects few changes to the negotiated pact, even though Democrats may want them.

“I don’t think there’s going to be any real changes to speak of,” he said.

Obama earlier today rejected the notion that he betrayed congressional Democrats by making the deal.

“I think Democrats are looking at this bill, and you’ve already had a whole bunch of them who said ‘this makes sense,’” Obama said following an Oval Office meeting with Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski. “I think they’re going to feel confident that, in fact, this is the right course.”

Democratic Senator Jim Webb of Virginia called the agreement the “ultimate stimulus plan” that “shows great promise for reinvigorating the economy” by putting more money in the pockets of workers and small-business owners.

“The American people, and particularly those who are out of work, cannot afford to wait while politics-as-usual blocks an effective, bipartisan plan to stimulate the economy and restore growth,” he said in a statement.

‘Imperfect Agreement’

Lawrence Summers, Obama’s chief economic adviser, told reporters in a briefing that a failure by Congress to adopt what he called an “imperfect agreement” would raise the risk of a double-dip recession.

“I don’t think at the end of the day the Congress will take a step that materially increases the risk of this economy stalling,” Summers said.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said yesterday a “vast majority” of his caucus would support the deal.

Democrat Max Baucus of Montana, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, said no deal has been reached. “We’re trying to get this focused more on middle-income taxpayers,” he said.

Leading Democrats for months pushed Obama’s position that income-tax cuts enacted during President George W. Bush’s administration should be extended beyond Dec. 31 only on the first $200,000 earned by individuals and $250,000 by couples filing jointly.

Higher Earners

Obama, in the deal he announced Dec. 6, yielded to the Republican insistence that tax cuts for higher earners also be extended.

The plan would create a top federal estate tax rate of 35 percent while exempting the first $5 million from each individual’s estate. It would be the second-lowest estate tax in 80 years.

Representative Bennie Thompson, a Mississippi Democrat, said today he will vote against the package. He was critical of the estate-tax provision, saying it was included even though it “wasn’t even on the table.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, yesterday termed the estate tax provision “a bridge too far.” She also said that in general, “the response has not been very good” among House Democrats to the deal.

House Democrats on Dec. 2 passed a plan to extend Bush-era tax cuts only for middle-income families over the objections of Republicans. The legislation was derailed in the Senate.

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