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Durbin, Lieberman: Action on Tax Cuts Fell to Election-Year Politics

Updated: 11:22 a.m.

Progress on extending Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class stalled over politics, Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) said Sunday, but they were both hopeful the gridlock could end in a lame-duck session.

“In a September session, it’s hard to separate anything you do from the politics, and the politics ultimately triumphed,” Lieberman said on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We didn’t get much of anything done. And that’s why, I think, ultimately the members of the Senate have decided the best thing to do is go home.”

The tax cut vote was delayed, he said, “because it was basically going to be another show, with people on both sides, Republicans and Democrats, knowing that nothing was really going to get done. We’ve got to come back and hopefully after the election put the parties’ interest after the public interest, the country’s interest, the interest in creating jobs again.”

Durbin agreed, saying on “State of the Union” that the Senate does not have the votes to pass the bill before the election. “I can count. … We have 59 Democrats, and not a single Republican in the Senate supports our position” to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts for couples earning less than $250,000 a year. The tax cuts expire Jan. 1.

But Durbin added that he hoped to see a willingness among Republicans to “break ranks” after Nov. 2 to join Democrats to extend the middle-class tax cuts.

Lieberman said he hoped for a one- or two-year extension of the tax cuts for the wealthy. “It’s easy enough to say that people who make a lot of money don’t deserve a tax cut now, but the truth is if you have more money, you spend more money, you invest more money,” he said. “That’s what we need to happen now to grow jobs and our economy.”

House Minority Leader John Boehner, told Reuters on Sunday that he had called for a vote on the issue this week. “The Congress has an opportunity this week to end some of the uncertainty by allowing the American people to know what the tax rates are going to be at the end of the year,” the Ohio Republican said. “To adjourn without dealing with this means that in their minds the elections are more important than jobs for the American people.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Friday that House Democrats have not decided whether they will take up the tax cuts this week, but House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) does not expect the House to vote before the elections. “I doubt that we will, and I’ll tell you why: The Senate has refused to move forward on that issue,” he said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said Thursday that his chamber will not hold a vote until after the elections.

Lieberman, an Independent who caucuses with the Democrats, said he is willing to extend the tax cuts now, despite having voted against them in 2001 and 2003, because of the differences in the state of the economy. Although he favored elements of the tax cuts when they were first proposed, including the cuts for the middle class and lower capital gains dividend taxes, he said he believed that the healthier economy at the time didn’t need the hit to the deficit and that the nation should concentrate on paying for the war in Iraq.

But allowing the taxes to go up now is “the surest way to send America back into a second dip of a recession, which nobody wants,” Lieberman said.

He later added, “I don’t think this is the time to raise anybody’s taxes, including those who are the wealthiest.”

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