Senate Republicans have officially put the Senate on notice that they will expand their obstruction of virtually any Democratic bill until lawmakers approve tax cuts for all, including those for the wealthiest Americans.
GOP senators delivered the news in a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
The letter states “we write to inform you that we will not agree to invoke cloture on the motion to proceed to any legislative item until the Senate has acted to fund the government and we have prevented the tax increase that is currently awaiting all American taxpayers. With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities.”
At issue is an extension of tax cuts enacted during the Bush administration that are set to expire at the end of the year. President Obama, and most congressional Democrats, have agreed to continue the tax cuts for the middle class — but not for the wealthiest 2 percent of Americans.
Republicans are fighting to extend all of the tax cuts, including for the rich. Obama and others oppose the tax cuts for the richest taxpayers on the grounds they would expand the federal budget deficit by $700 billion over 10 years.
Obama and other top Democrats have expressed flexibility to negotiate on the issue, most recently in Tuesday’s White House meeting with congressional leadership of both parties.
But the Republican letter represents a new hardline tactic in the debate, which threatens a host of Democratic priorities for the current lame-duck session that includes an immigration reform measure known as the DREAM Act, repeal of the ban on gays in the military, a nuclear treaty with Russia, and more.
It also deals a blow to the current stalemate over an extension of unemployment insurance for the nation’s jobless, benefits that began running out on Monday for hundreds of thousands of out-of-work Americans.
The letter also puts in writing, and only expands, what has been a longstanding GOP use of the Senate filibuster to prevent most Democratic legislation from coming to a final vote. Overcoming a filibuster requires 60 senators to agree, a number that Democrats no longer control.
Reid acknowledged as much in his response to the letter.
“This letter, unfortunately, is nothing new. Republicans have simply put in writing the political strategy they have pursued over the last two years: obstruct and delay critical help for struggling Americans, and then blame others for the problems they refuse to solve. This strategy is very cynical but very obvious and transparent,” he says.
Reid has long complained of what he calls Republican abuse of the filibuster to prevent action on a variety of fronts.
Republicans, for instance, already blocked earlier extensions of jobless benefits several times this year, only to eventually relent.
“If Republicans really cared about creating jobs, they would drop their opposition to preserving unemployment insurance for millions of Americans still looking for work,” Reid says. “Economists and small business associations know that preserving these unemployment benefits would create or save hundreds of thousands of jobs and immediately pump money into our economy. But instead of helping the middle class, Republicans are holding hostage critical job-creating and national-security measures to give more tax breaks to the wealthy and CEOs who ship American jobs overseas.
“The recent election gave Republicans more responsibility to participate in solving the problems we face, but so far they have just continued to stand on the sidelines rooting for failure,” Reid adds.
From 1971 through 1993, an average of just 19.1 motions to end filibusters were filed annually. Between 1993 and 2007, that figure rose to 36 motions a year. That has nearly doubled just since 2007, to 68.7, according to a report on the matter issued earlier this year.
The publisher of the news site On The Hill, Scott Nance has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.