Cloture Reached, Tax Cut Deal Moving Ahead In Senate

Update: At 6:30 PM, after running for more than three hours, the cloture vote closed in the Senate. The final vote was 83-15. Among those voting no after the previous update were Sens. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), Kay Hagan (D-NC), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), Jim DeMint (R-SC), Carl Levin (D-MI), Tom Cobun (R-OK) George Voinovich (R-OH), Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH).

Update: At around 4 PM, the 60 votes needed to achieve cloture were reached. The Senators voting no so far were almost all Democrats, save for Sen. John Ensign (R-NV). Others voting no include Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Russ Feingold (D-WI), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and Tom Udall (D-CO).

Right on schedule, the Senate opened debate on the compromise tax cut plan worked out between President Obama and Republican leaders at 2 PM this afternoon. The debate is expected to end with a cloture vote on the controversial plan to extend all the Bush tax cuts while also spending billions on new extended benefits for the unemployed sometime tonight.

That will clear the way for more debate and a final vote on the compromise package some time in the coming days, according to leadership sources.The debate is expected to split the partisan divisions in the Senate along ideological lines, with conservative and progressive Senators voting against the deal while moderates on both sides of the aisle join together to support it. The debate has split Obama from his own progressive base, who have called the deal a “cave” to Republicans who wanted to extend the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest as well as the middle class. Progressives want to see the tax rate on the wealthy rise to somewhat offset the cost of the rest of the cuts.

The Senate debate is not expected to be the end to the fight over extending the cuts in the lame duck session, which concludes at the end of the month. Whatever bill the Senate passes must go to the House, where strong opposition from some Democrats could result in a revised compromise package kicking back to the Senate.

In remarks prepared for the Senate floor, Republican leader Mitch McConnell addressed critics on both sides of the agreement. Conservative groups have objected to the unemployment insurance extension included in the compromise, which they say will add unduly to the deficit.

“This bipartisan compromise represents an essential first step in tackling the debt,” McConnell said. “[B]ecause in keeping taxes where they are, we are officially cutting off the spigot.”

Democratic Sen. John Kerry (MA) tried to address the detractors in his base in a statement to reporters announcing his support for the compromise this afternoon. Kerry said the compromise was necessary because “Senate Republicans marched in lockstep to hold middle class tax cuts and unemployment insurance hostage to bonus tax cuts only for the wealthiest Americans.” Voting for the compromise, and its extension of the taxes on the wealthiest, is the only way for Democrats to get at least some of what they want, Kerry said.

“I’m not going to stand by and see laid-off workers cut off from their lifeline or see working people take home less and less in their paychecks come January,” Kerry said. “This isn’t the choice we should have to make, but it is the choice we do have to make, and governing is always about choices.”

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