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House Democrats Whipping Caucus on Extender Package

House Democratic leaders said they could still vote Wednesday night on a package of tax extenders, which aides said would likely be scaled back in part to appease Members who want a smaller price tag.

Democratic leaders met Wednesday afternoon and split up to whip the Caucus on the legislation; they face a challenge getting Members to back a bill that is expected to add about $100 billion to the deficit while angering parts of the business community that would see higher taxes.

“We’re hard at work and optimistic we will move this soon,” Ways and Means Chairman Sander Levin told reporters after huddling with leaders on Wednesday afternoon. Asked if the package would hit the floor Wednesday, the Michigan Democrat said, “I think the leadership will make that call soon.”

The section of the bill getting slashed is the “doctor fix,” which would prevent a massive cut in Medicare reimbursements scheduled to go into effect next month. The original bill prevented a cut for three and a half years, but a smaller extension was under consideration to lower the overall cost.

Democrats had previously voted for bills exempting that funding from pay-as-you-go budget rules, but some are having second thoughts given voter concerns about the debt and deficit heading into a difficult midterm election season.

Democrats also were trying to resolve differences with the Senate over language adjusting transportation funding formulas, but aides said they thought that issue had been resolved.

House and Senate aides have been sparring over which side is most to blame for the chaotic rush to clear the agenda by the Memorial Day recess.

One senior Senate aide said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) approached Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) this morning and the two talked about House leaders’ problems in securing votes for passage.

“We’re focused on getting a bill done, but the House has got some tough decisions to make on their own,” the aide said.

Another senior Senate aide said Democrats cannot whip the bill until House leaders decide what they want to change in it, but Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said Wednesday that he felt “more positive this afternoon than I did this morning” about getting the package through both chambers before the break.

Though Senate aides said Democrats do not yet have 60 votes for passage, Reid said Wednesday morning that when the bill comes over, he “will have 60 votes” to beat back a likely GOP-led filibuster.

“We’re going to see what the House does with the bill,” Reid said.

Reid maintained that the chamber would complete action this week on both extenders bill and the $60 billion war supplemental, which has been pending on the floor since Monday. The Senate is expected to vote Wednesday night on a handful of amendments to the bill and possibly move to final passage as soon as Thursday.

Reid has threatened to cut into the Memorial Day break with votes this weekend if the Senate has not finished both priorities.

“I’ve had a number of meetings today with Senators, with Members of the House,” Reid said. “We know we not only have this supplemental appropriations bill on the floor, but we have this tax-extender thing we do that, we believe, by the time we get it worked out, will be really good for business. And we’re working through that.”

House aides had been complaining that the Senate’s inability to say what would pass muster was holding up the bill.

Tory Newmyer and Jessica Brady contributed to this report.

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