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Originally published December 14, 2010 at 9:24 PM | Page modified December 15, 2010 at 6:53 AM

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Grumbling on extremes not likely to halt tax deal

As the Senate prepared to push through a sweeping tax package negotiated by the White House and congressional Republicans, liberal Democrats in the House laid plans Tuesday to derail the deal by altering terms of the estate-tax provision.

WASHINGTON — As the Senate prepared to push through a sweeping tax package negotiated by the White House and congressional Republicans, liberal Democrats in the House laid plans Tuesday to derail the deal by altering terms of the estate-tax provision.

Republicans, meanwhile, came under increasing pressure from the tea-party movement and other conservatives to reject the bill, highlighting how the GOP is likely to face a persistent rightward push when it takes control of the House next month.

A group called the Tea Party Patriots circulated a petition calling the compromise a bad backroom deal with President Obama that violates tea-party principles, such as reducing the deficit.

Sarah Palin has criticized the deal, and former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney said in an op-ed piece in USA Today on Tuesday that he opposed it. Radio talk-show host Rush Limbaugh and conservative bloggers also are weighing in, and proclaiming the deal wanting.

Senate leaders postponed a vote on the $858 billion package until Wednesday. Still, the measure was expected to pass with even stronger support than it received in a test vote this week, when 83 senators voted to advance the package in the strongest bipartisan vote on a major initiative since Obama took office.

The measure would extend for two years an array of Bush-era tax breaks that are scheduled to expire Dec. 31, including benefits championed by Republicans for the wealthiest households. In return, Obama secured another year of emergency jobless benefits and fresh incentives to boost the economy, including a 2 percentage-point reduction in the payroll tax for all workers in 2011.

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said he was leaning toward voting for the package after voting against it Monday "to send a message to the House that there are allies here."

Brown, up for re-election in 2012, said he changed his mind after speaking with his minister and reading letters from constituents.

While resistance from House Democrats remained notable, the strong Senate vote appeared to be weakening their resolve to block the measure. Senior Democrats said the House is likely to stage votes to amend the estate tax and possibly other provisions to assuage anger over what some Democrats view as an overly generous deal for the wealthy. But it was not clear that such amendments would pass.

While "significant concerns" remain, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said, the "overwhelming majority" of lawmakers in both parties believe it's "absolutely essential" to approve a measure.

"The vote in the Senate indicates the urgency that is felt by a broad spectrum that the middle-income taxes not be increased come January 1," Hoyer said. "In order to effect that, you've got to pass a bill."

The White House also expressed optimism, as Obama worked the phones to build support among House lawmakers.

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"The president has had some good conversations, and I think we are on a path toward getting this agreement through the House and ultimately to the president's desk," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said.

House Democrats met into the evening outlining a strategy that increasingly focused on the estate tax. Outraged by the agreement to exempt individual estates worth as much as $5 million from taxation, senior House Democrats said they would press to lower the threshold to $3.5 million. They also want to impose a stiffer tax on larger estates, by setting the rate at 45 percent rather than the 35 percent demanded by Republicans and agreed to by Obama.

"There's a real debate here between Republican proponents of tax cuts for the very richest Americans and our argument that that's fiscally irresponsible and unfair to future generations," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.

Despite tea-party pressure, House Republican leaders said they still expected a sizable majority of their members to vote for the legislation. But each defecting Republican represents another Democrat who must be swayed to vote for the bill.

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., is against the package, said her spokesman, Sergio Gor. "She would like to see an up-or-down vote solely on extending tax cuts without other conditions," Gor said.

Indiana Rep. Mike Pence, outgoing chairman of the House Republican Conference, told a conservative radio-show host Tuesday that "I will not vote for this tax deal when it comes to the floor of the House of Representatives."

Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., fiercely criticized the bill in a news release as "an incomplete effort that fails to create a permanent tax structure," and he hinted he might not vote for it.

The unrest may foreshadow the dynamic coming in January with the 112th Congress, which will be full of tea-party freshmen.

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned that changing the legislation days before the legislative session ends could unravel the tenuous agreement.

"This agreement is not subject to being reopened," he said. "I hope that our friends in the House will understand that that's the best way to go forward — simply pass the Senate bill, get it down to a president who supports the understanding."

Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor, the Republican whip, was equally pointed in an e-mail. "Playing political chess with the budgets of millions of working families and small businesses is dangerous," he said.

Compiled from The Washington Post, The New York Times and the Tribune Washington bureau

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