Sock Puppet Theater, Act II

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Congress tomorrow – yes, on a Saturday – will be holding their second round of just-for-show votes on extending the Bush tax cuts. On the heels of the House vote, the Senate will be tackling the tax cuts, which expire at the end of January if action isn’t taken. Don’t expect real progress, though: the legislation isn’t expected to pass the chamber.

The Saturday votes are a product of failed negotiations between the two parties and the White House on the issue. Senate Democratic and Republican leaders reached a tentative agreement Thursday night to hold four votes – two proposals from either side – but an objection from at least one unnamed member of the GOP conference blocked the deal. Dems were quick to point out that all 42 Republicans sent a letter earlier in the week that they would not agree to work on anything but tax cuts and the continuing resolution that will fund the government through the New Year. The so-called CR passed this week leaving just the tax cuts on the table. “They were the ones who said they would only work on this and now they’re objecting to working on this,” said Jim Manley, a senior advisor to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Angered by the turnabout, Reid decided to proceed with the Democratic votes on Saturday, keeping the full Senate in town in order to do so.

The Democratic amendments (mounted on H.R. 4853, a shell bill as all spending must originate in the House) would make permanent the tax cuts on incomes up to $250,000 or those on incomes up to $1 million. They are also tied to an extension of unemployment benefits, alternative minimum tax relief, an estate tax fix, a repeal of the 1099 provision in the health care reform bill and other tax-related items.

The GOP amendments would make permanent all of the tax cuts or extend all of them by five years.

Meanwhile, both sides are accusing one another of playing politics with the issue. Despite the negative tone on the Senate floor in today’s speeches, negotiations will resume Monday on finding a viable solution, aides on both sides say.