Senate ready for symbolic showdown on tax cuts

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Senate leaders moved toward showdown votes Wednesday on rival Democratic and Republican plans for extending broad tax cuts that will otherwise expire in January.


In an announcement that seemed to surprise Democrats, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor that he was accepting a Democratic offer to hold back-to-back roll calls on both parties’ bills, with each measure requiring just a simple majority for passage.


The new plan puts pressure on Democrats to avoid an embarrassing defeat of their own tax cut plan, which closely resembles proposals by President Barack Obama to extend tax cuts for all but the nation’s highest earners. Republicans want the high earners to keep their tax cuts, too.


Democrats have little margin for error. There are 51 Democrats and two independents who usually vote with them. But Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., said Wednesday that he will vote against the Democratic bill because he thinks lawmakers should instead be trying to write a deficit-reduction package.


Until now, the Senate had planned to vote only on the Democratic bill under rules requiring 60 votes for it to prevail — a number Democrats would not be able to reach.


Even if the Democratic bill is approved, its significance remains no more than a political statement because it has no chance of surviving in the Republican-run House.


There are 47 Republicans in the Senate, and their measure seems certain to fail.


The $250 billion Democratic bill would continue tax cuts through 2013 for everyone but individuals who earn at least $200,000 yearly and couples making $250,000. The Republican measure would include those higher earners in the reductions.


One of the chief differences is that the Democratic bill would levy much higher taxes than Republicans would on people who inherit estates. That could make for a tough vote for Democrats from states with a high cost of living, or states with farms and ranches.