President Obama returned from Asia on Sunday to face the new post-election reality at home: in an unpredictable lame-duck session of Congress starting Monday, emboldened Republicans are poised to try to force an extension of the Bush-era tax rates for the wealthy and block action on a variety of domestic and foreign initiatives.
Notice that while the Democratic pols were free to forward their plans without interruptions from Times reporters, Republican leaders had to take a little sniping from reporters Jackie Calmes and David Herszenhorn.
Two Democratic senators on Sunday tried to step into that perceived void. Senator Charles E. Schumer of New York proposed limiting an extension of the Bush tax cuts to incomes below $1 million instead of $250,000. Senator Mark Warner of Virginia would keep the lower income cutoff and use roughly $65 billion, the amount that would be saved by not extending the rates for higher income for two years, to cut taxes further for small businesses.Also, while Schumer and Warner were not ideologically labeled (Schumer in particular is a liberal), two Republicans senators were.
"I think there is a compromise in the making," Mr. Schumer said on "Face the Nation" on CBS.
Republican leaders also made the rounds of the Sunday talk shows to support keeping the rates low for all taxpayers, despite a projected cost of $4 trillion over 10 years. Of that, about $700 billion is the estimated cost of retaining the top rates for another decade.
Two conservative Republicans - Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," and Rand Paul, who was just elected to the Senate from Kentucky and appeared on CBS - said separately that they wanted a permanent extension of all rates but could compromise on a two- or three-year extension of the rates for high-income earners.
Calmes and Herszenhorn predictably discouraged Republican tax cutting.
Like [Treasury Secretary] Geithner, Mr. Warner argued that nonpartisan analyses showed that extending the Bush tax cuts on high incomes is the least effective of a variety of stimulus proposals since the rich are more likely to save the money rather than spend it.
"Most economists would say giving folks like me an additional tax cut might not be the best value," Mr. Warner, who is wealthy, said on "State of the Union" on CNN.
Among the most effective measures, according to many analyses, is extending unemployment assistance since the jobless spend the money immediately. Republicans are opposed to further extensions in the lame-duck session. But Democrats are counting on the holiday season to persuade them to acquiesce.
By contrast, the Times found nothing controversial over the "Dream Act" (not called as such) and the cynical immigration bill that will have little chance of making headway in a Congress with an influx of new Republicans.
House Democrats will caucus Tuesday in a session that is expected to include substantial hand-wringing over their midterm election losses and tense discussions over the bid by the House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, to remain as Democratic leader in the next Congress.
She is hoping to push bills protecting workers from discrimination based on sexual orientation and providing a path to citizenship for certain illegal immigrants who were brought to the United States as young children. In the Senate, Mr. Reid may also push the immigration bill, as he promised Hispanic constituents during his tough re-election race.
The reporters worked in one last shot against Republicans:
Despite the election-year rhetoric against deficits, other pending measures - like the Bush tax cuts - would add to the debt.You can follow Times Watch on Twitter .
Both sides want a one-year adjustment for the alternative minimum tax so many upper-middle-class Americans will not have to pay a projected $65 billion more in taxes for 2010; a $35 billion package extending longtime tax breaks for individuals and businesses for this year; and a one-year measure blocking $17 billion in scheduled cuts in Medicare payments to doctors.