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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to allow up-or-down votes on a pair of proposals to extend the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax rates in a bid to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to go on record supporting President Barack Obama’s plan to extend the rates for all but the top bracket.

Since last week, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has pushed the Kentucky Republican and his Conference to bypass procedural hurdles and hold direct votes on passage of the two tax bills. Reid’s version would generally extend lower tax rates enacted under President George W. Bush for individuals making as much as $200,000 a year and families making as much as $250,000. Democrats contended Republicans resisted the move because that version would get the 50 votes needed to pass.

“There’s still time for Republicans to reverse course and drop another filibuster. They owe the American people a serious debate on this proposal,” Reid said before McConnell’s announcement this morning.

McConnell said Republicans would agree to the two votes, the other of which would be on a GOP plan sponsored by Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) to extend all of the expiring Bush tax rates for a year and provide relief from some other tax provisions, along with establishing an expedited process for a tax code overhaul next year. The move would do away with a scheduled initial cloture vote on just getting the Democrats’ proposal on the floor.

“The only way to force people to take a stand is to make sure that today’s votes truly count. By setting these votes at a 50-vote threshold, nobody on the other side can hide behind a procedural vote while leaving their views on the actual bill itself a mystery to the people who sent them here,” McConnell said.

The move to a simple-majority vote would ensure that the Democrats lose at least one vote on their plan. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has already announced that he would support a procedural vote to call up the Reid measure but oppose its actual passage without changes. Lieberman, who is not running for re-election in November, says that further tax code changes should take place this year.

“It is not a bipartisan plan to balance our budget in a way that will create job growth. Its enactment at this time, in my opinion, would only serve to preclude debate and action on exactly the broader type of reforms we need to fix our broken federal government fiscal system,” Lieberman said. “Just imposing across-the-board tax increases for individuals and small businesses that make over $250,000 a year is neither tax reform nor the balanced deficit-reduction agreement our country needs right now.”

McConnell admitted that under most circumstances, he would muster the votes to kill the Reid measure using Senate procedural rules. In this case, he says, it really does not matter because the House is sure to reject the bill that wouldn’t extend all of the Bush tax cuts. Not only will the GOP-controlled House oppose the measure on the merits, the bill runs afoul of Constitutional provisions that require revenue bills to originate in that chamber.

“The only reason we won’t block it today is that we know it doesn’t pass constitutional muster and won’t become law. If the Democrats were serious, they’d proceed to a House-originated revenue bill as the Constitution requires,” McConnell said.

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