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Tax, Spending Bills Near Finish Line

The House appears to be grinding toward a final vote on a tax cut package Thursday, while a showdown in the Senate over an omnibus spending package to fund the government is expected Saturday.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats will have the opportunity to vote to change the Senate-passed $858 billion tax cut package.

“We will make our point,” the California Democrat said, ripping into the bill’s estate tax provision, which she called a $25 billion windfall for 6,600 families.

“I would love to see us substitute the bill we passed a year ago,” she said.

The House Rules Committee approved a rule for consideration of the tax cut bill Wednesday that would allow a vote on an amendment altering the estate tax provision. If that amendment passes, the bill would get sent to the Senate, where the change would likely be rejected and sent back to the House.

If it doesn’t, the Senate bill would likely get an up-or-down vote and head to the president’s desk for his signature.

Meanwhile, Congress must clear spending legislation by midnight Saturday, when a continuing resolution funding the government expires, to avoid a government shutdown. The Senate will likely encounter prolonged stretches of quorum calls and solitary speakers on the floor until Saturday, when members will vote on the omnibus spending bill.

If passed, the omnibus would go to the House, and Democratic aides said the chamber would ultimately back the omnibus. House Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday that “there are no plans at this moment to do a second CR” should the omnibus fail.

Senate Democratic aides had said Tuesday that they believed the Senate had 66 votes for the spending measure, but that number had slipped to 61 by Wednesday afternoon, as even Appropriations Committee Republicans started to hedge on their support.

When asked, Senate GOP appropriators were coy about whether they would vote for the earmark-laden omnibus, given the uproar it has caused among GOP activists. Appropriations ranking member Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) and committee members Richard Shelby (Ala.) and Lamar Alexander (Tenn.) all indicated they were on the fence about voting for the bill.

Democrats said that despite the brouhaha over earmarks, they are still confident in their ability to draw four or more Republicans to help them beat back a GOP-led filibuster.

“It’s not the same straightforward path as there was before, but we still feel confident that we have a number of Republicans,” one senior Senate Democratic aide said.

Even Sen. John McCain, an earmark opponent, said he may be fighting an uphill battle during the lame duck.

“We still have the Old Bull Republicans, as well as Democrats,” the Arizona Republican said. “I don’t know if we have the votes or not. But I’ll tell you it’s going to be a hell of a fight.”

Saturday will also mark a key procedural hurdle for the new Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty. It appears that Democrats will have enough votes to end debate on the treaty, and, assuming the cloture motion Saturday is successful, a ratification vote could come late Sunday or early Monday.

Beyond that, the schedule in the Senate is less clear. Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) has said he wants to hold votes on the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal, immigration legislation and a handful of other measures, all of which will likely mean the Senate will be in session through Dec. 23 or later.

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