Monday, Dec. 13, 2010 | 4:50 p.m.
After clearing a procedural vote with an overwhelming majority, it looks like the Senate will be poised to pass the tax bill — but not everyone is on board.
Nevada Sen. John Ensign was one of only 15 senators, and only five Republicans, to vote against a procedural motion to take up Obama’s tax framework Monday — a position he says is a vote on principle.
“Sometimes your side doesn’t win; it doesn’t mean you go along with what you don’t believe in,” he said. “I believe that it’s the right thing to do right now, to keep people’s taxes from going up but doing it in a way that it doesn’t add to the deficit.”
Ensign’s main complaint has to do with amendments. He co-sponsored an amendment with Sen. Tom Coburn, who also voted no on Monday, requiring that the expenditures that will come along with the tax cut extensions — which Ensign pegs at about $900 billion — be offset elsewhere in the budget, and says he has a list of additional ones that probably aren’t going to see the light of day.
“[The majority] doesn’t look like they’re going to allow us to offer amendments ... I’d like to offer other amendments with spending offsets,” Ensign said. “I think that going back to the 2008 levels of spending ... if you start with that as your baseline, you save a few hundred billion dollars over 10 years.”
While today’s vote was only a procedural measure that doesn't bind Ensign’s final vote on the tax package, he said he’s likely to vote no.
“Obviously I’m leaning very strongly in that direction,” he said.
That may not be the case for Democrats who opposed today's vote though.
More than just the 10 Democrats who voted against the procedural motion Monday afternoon have decried the framework for giving too much to the wealthy. The final framework extends all tax cuts for two years at every income level; Democrats had hoped to cap those extensions at $250,000 in a bid to rein in deficit spending and target the bill toward the middle class.
“This is a terrible bill in terms of what it gives to people that already have so much in this country, but it’s got an awful lot of good things for people who really really really need the help of their government right now,” said Democrat Sherrod Brown, who said he also wanted to embolden the House of Representatives — where Democrats passed a non-binding resolution last week to urge Speaker Nancy Pelosi to refuse to take up Obama’s framework — to keep pushing for a new approach. “I understand what we’re up against ... but this is sort of a last, best chance to make significant changes in this bill.”
Getting that chance though, won’t be easy.
“It depends on a lot of factors. The factors include how strongly senators feel about their amendments, but they also include how much time there is remaining for other legislation,” said Sen. Max Baucus, chair of the Finance Committee and Senate Democrats’ chief negotiator on taxes. “With Christmas just around the corner, it may diminish the ardor of those who want to offer amendments.”
Whether or not changes are made in the next few days, it appears that with 83 senators supporting the motion to proceed, the Senate is likely to have enough votes to carry it as is.
That means, for those who don’t like it, the last stand is actually in the House. But if they successfully block it and there is no resolution this year, the tax cuts will expire, driving everyone’s tax rate up in 2011 and eliminating several tax incentive programs. It is possible for next year’s Congress to pass a bill and apply its terms retroactively to grandfather in those earning income at any point in 2011, including the weeks where tax cuts might not be in force.
Ensign was joined by Republicans Coburn, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama and Sen. George Voinovich of Ohio in voting against the procedural measure to take up the tax extension bill.
The Democrats who voted against the bill were Sens. Brown, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Russ Feingold of Wisconsin, Kristin Gillibrand of New York, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan and Mark Udall of Colorado. They were joined by independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who caucuses with the Democrats, and logged almost nine hours Friday filibustering the bill.