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Senate Democrats Want to Put GOP Blockade to Test

Senate Democrats sought to force Republicans to make good on a pledge that they would oppose any bill, including one to extend unemployment benefits, until Bush-era tax cuts are extended.

A host of Democratic lawmakers, visibly irritated by a GOP letter sent to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Wednesday, lambasted the minority for blocking action on extending the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty and unemployment benefits in order to extend tax cuts for high-income Americans.

“Republicans now are arguing the most important thing possibly to do for the economy, the most important thing to do for our country, is to reward the people who have already done very well the last 10 years at the expense of the broad middle class, who have seen basically stagnant wages or worse during the last decade,” Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) said.

Brown was joined on the floor by several of his Democratic colleagues, including Sens. Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Mark Begich (Alaska). The ad hoc group requested action on a host of bills, including one to extend unemployment benefits and another giving tax credits to manufacturers, and in each case saw an objection by a GOP Member.

Wednesday’s floor action came in response to a letter in which all 42 Republican Members vowed to block action on all bills until the chamber has acted to fund the government and extend Bush-era tax cuts for all income tax brackets.

“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,” the Republicans wrote. “With little time left in this Congressional session, legislative scheduling should be focused on these critical priorities.”

Some of the Republicans took to the floor Wednesday afternoon to defend their position and deny Democrats consent on other pieces of legislation.

“The government runs out of money Friday. Taxes go up at the end of the month,” Republican Conference Chairman Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) said. “Republicans have written a letter to the Majority Leader that says ‘let’s focus on those two things.’”

Schumer, who spent much of Wednesday afternoon on the floor, tried to win Alexander’s support for his proposal to extend tax cuts for those making less than $1 million. Alexander quickly batted down that idea, saying, “Let’s not raise taxes on anyone.”

A bipartisan panel tasked by President Barack Obama to come up with a deal on the tax cut issue ended its first meeting Wednesday without an agreement in sight. Democrats reiterated at the meeting that they want to extend cuts just for middle-class Americans, while Republicans demanded an extension for all, sources familiar with the talks said.

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