Republicans threaten to shut down Senate until deal reached to extend tax cuts
Renewed partisan fury engulfed the Senate on Wednesday, as Republicans threatened to block all legislation until a deal is reached to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts, potentially derailing the Democrats' busy, end-of-year agenda.
The New York Times
The day in D.C.Food safety: A procedural problem is threatening to derail a landmark food-safety measure passed by the Senate on Tuesday. The bill, designed to reduce nationwide outbreaks of food-borne illness, has wide public support. However, after the Senate approved the measure, 73-25, staffers learned one section could violate a constitutional provision that calls for new taxes to originate in the House rather than the Senate.
GOP kills global-warming panel: House Republicans have decided to eliminate a global-warming committee created by Democrats. A spokesman for House Speaker-to-be John Boehner called the Select Committee on Energy Independence a waste of money.
Ladies' room: Boehner announced plans to install the first women's restroom next to the chamber's floor. Congresswomen long have complained that, while a men's room is next to the chamber, their closest available restroom is much farther away.
Ensign probe: Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., says he no longer is the target of a Justice Department investigation into whether he violated the law in an attempt to cover up an affair with a former campaign aide. The senator admitted in June 2009 that he had the extramarital affair and later helped the woman's husband obtain lobbying work. There was no immediate confirmation from the Justice Department about whether it had ended the investigation.
Powell behind START: Former Secretary of State Colin Powell urged Senate Republicans to quit stalling and vote for a nuclear-arms reduction treaty with Russia.
Seattle Times news services
WASHINGTON — Renewed partisan fury engulfed the Senate on Wednesday, as Republicans threatened to block all legislation until a deal is reached to extend expiring Bush-era tax cuts, potentially derailing the Democrats' busy, end-of-year agenda.
The threat, less than 24 hours after President Obama met with senior Republican congressional leaders and expressed hopes for a "new dialogue," was made in a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid and signed by all 42 Senate Republicans. And it was reiterated by Republican leader Mitch McConnell in a speech in which he accused Democratic leaders and Obama of ignoring the midterm-election results.
The move put Democrats in a vise and sharply heightened tensions on Capitol Hill, where administration officials and senior lawmakers from both the House and Senate opened the first round of talks in hopes of reaching an accord on the expiring tax cuts. Officials reported no progress in those talks, and the Senate Republicans' threat suggested they had little appetite for compromise.
In contrast, House Democrats announced a vote Thursday on a proposal to extend the tax cuts only to families earning $250,000 or less, in what is seen as a largely symbolic exercise. Senate Democrats also had hoped to put political pressure on Republicans by portraying them as fighting to maintain tax breaks even for millionaires and billionaires.
If Congress does not act by the end of the year, the lower rates expire for everyone, leading to an estimated 3 percent tax increase for most taxpayers, an outcome neither side wants.
The Republican maneuver came as Senate Democrats seemed within reach of the votes needed to authorize repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy on gay service members. The GOP blockade stalls debate on the military-policy bill containing the repeal language, and it casts a long shadow over numerous bills awaiting action in Congress, including efforts to extend jobless benefits for millions of Americans poised to lose them.
It also complicates the chances of ratification of the New Start arms treaty with Russia that is a major priority for the White House, and it could prevent Reid from fulfilling a major promise of his re-election campaign, to try again to pass a bill that would create a path to citizenship for some illegal immigrants brought to the United States as children.
"For the past two years, Democrat leaders in Washington have spent virtually all their time ticking off items on the liberal wish list while they've had the chance," McConnell said. "Here we are, just a few weeks left in the session, and they're still at it. Last month, the American people issued their verdict on the Democrats' priorities. Democrats have responded by doubling down."
McConnell's announcement of an all-out blockade came one day after he applauded Sen. Chris Dodd for a farewell address in which the retiring Connecticut Democrat called for greater civility and cooperation among lawmakers.
The announcement drew howls of anger from Democrats who said it was just the latest evidence of Republican obstructionism. To emphasize their point, Democrats went to the floor and attempted to bring up numerous bills, including a measure to extend jobless benefits and a measure to promote clean energy. On behalf of his colleagues, Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., repeatedly voiced objections, blocking the bills and prompting a furious speech by Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.
"If anybody's been paying attention," she said, "they would understand that our friends across the aisle have been blocking everything, including motherhood and apple pie for the last year."
McCaskill derided Barrasso for accusing the Democrats of engaging in theater.
"Theater is having 42 senators say we will not participate unless you do what we want to do today," she said. "That's theater."
Obama tried to put a positive spin on the day's developments, saying he did not think McConnell's threat broke the spirit of bipartisanship that the president expressed after his meeting with Republican congressional leaders Tuesday.
"Nobody wants to see taxes on middle-class families go up starting Jan. 1, and so there's going to be some lingering politics that have to work themselves out in all the caucuses, Democrat and Republican," Obama said. "But at the end of the day, I think that people of goodwill can come together."
Information from the Tribune Washington bureau is included in this report.
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.
I've been fortunate to have traveled the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia. Exotic islands, too. Wherever I go, I'm struck by one undeniable trut...
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