GOP leaders hint at compromise on tax cuts, jobless benefits

By David Brown and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, December 6, 2010

The Senate Republican leadership telegraphed on the Sunday- morning talk shows that a compromise to extend unemployment compensation and the George W. Bush-era tax cuts is in the offing.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. Jon Kyl (Ariz.), the Republican whip, told different interviewers that they expect Congress to vote for the tax cuts, which have been in effect for almost a decade, to continue unaltered for at least several years in exchange for an agreement to extend an emergency unemployment program that expired last week for millions of people.

"Obviously, the president won't sign a permanent extension of the current tax rates. So we're going to have some kind of extension. I'd like one as long as possible," McConnell told host David Gregory on NBC's "Meet the Press." Moments later, he added: "I think we will extend unemployment compensation. . . . We're working on that package. . . . I think we're going to get there."

On CBS's "Face the Nation," Kyl told host Bob Schieffer: "I think that most folks believe that the recipe would include at least an extension of unemployment benefits for those who are unemployed and an extension of all the tax rates for all Americans for some period of time."

On the same program, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (Ill.), the Democratic whip, reluctantly concurred.

"I can tell you that without unemployment benefits being extended, personally, this is a non-starter," he said. "The notion that we would give tax cuts to those making over $1 million a year . . . is unconscionable." But, he added: "We're moving in that direction."

On Saturday, the Senate rejected two Democratic proposals for extending the Bush-era tax cuts, which the Republicans prefer to call "tax rates," because they have been in effect for so long. One would have extended them for the first $250,000 of family income. The second would have extended them for the first $1 million.

The fact that a handful of Democratic senators voted along with every Republican gave McConnell a swaggering confidence that the tax cuts will live on intact.

"Imagine how much worse it would have been [in recent years] if we'd had the higher tax rate," he told Gregory. "Look, this argument's over, David. You and I can continue to engage in it, but it's over. The Senate voted yesterday. Every Republican and five Democrats said, 'We're not raising taxes on anybody in the middle of a recession.' "

On another contentious matter - ratification of the New START pact on nuclear weapons with Russia - McConnell was neutral on whether the lame-duck Congress will consider it, while Kyl thinks it won't.

McConnell said he has "no idea" whether Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) will bring it up, nor would he say whether he would vote for it. Kyl, who has opposed voting until the Obama administration commits to modernizing the country's nuclear arsenal, said: "No, the answer is there is not time to do it in the lame-duck, when you consider all of the other things that the Democratic leader wants to do."

The Labor Department estimates that 1.6 million people could stop receiving unemployment insurance checks by Christmas if the benefits aren't extended. About 6 million people could lose them by spring.

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