As D.C. legend has it, George Washington told Thomas Jefferson that the Senate was designed as a saucer to "cool" the heat of House-passed legislation. Put another way, the Senate has a talent for helping bills grind to a screeching halt after arriving from the House, where the majority party has more power.
And this week's outrage-fueled AIG bonus tax is no exception. One day after the House passed a 90% retroactive levy intended to claw back bonuses at the infamous company, the future of the bill in the Senate remains less than clear.
The Senate version of the bonus tax is more measured than the House version, imposing a 35% tax on bonuses. But it also applies the tax to any company receiving more than $100 million from the bailout, while the House measure only applied to firms getting more than $5 billion. Several senior GOP senators, from Judd Gregg (NH) to Jon Kyl (AZ), have blasted the tax bill in recent hours, suggesting that Republican leaders may split on the proposal, just as they did in the House.
Could Republicans mount a filibuster of the bonus tax bill next week? Anything is possible in the current volatile political climate -- especially after today's revelation that the House bill would exempt $2.5 billion in hasty bonuses awarded last year at Merrill Lynch.
Ultimately, however, the political risk of appearing tolerant of AIG's bonuses is sure to push at least a few GOP senators over to the "yes" camp. Then the X factor becomes whether any Democrats will take the unpredictable route and raise questions about the bonus tax's constitutionality.
For an accurate reading of the tea leaves, check out this headline from Dow Jones (emphasis mine): "Sen. Reid: Senate Should Take Up AIG Bill Before April 6."