By Shailagh Murray
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 12, 2010; 8:09 PM
The Senate will hold a key test vote Monday on the tax package President Obama negotiated with Republicans to prevent rate increases from hitting most American workers starting Jan. 1.
Despite the lingering reservations of many Democrats, the latest tallies by party leaders suggest that the Obama-GOP package will clear the Senate with relative ease, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN's "State of the Union" on Sunday.
"We're counting votes in the Senate," he said. "Harry Reid and I have been on the phone over the weekend and I can say that we have a good cross-section of the Senate Democratic caucus, from left to right, who are prepared to accept this," he added, referring to the majority leader.
Reid spokesman Jim Manley said Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will discuss on Monday whether to allow any amendments to the legislation, a decision that will determine how quickly a final vote can be held. The bill is co-sponsored by Reid and McConnell, a first for two leaders who are typically adversaries, Manley said.
The package would extend for two years all the income tax cuts approved under President George W. Bush. It also would continue long-term unemployment benefits for 13 months; provide a generous incentive for companies to invest in new equipment in 2011; and reduce the payroll tax for individuals from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for one year. Obama sought those latter provisions to accelerate the economic recovery.
Durbin said some of his colleagues - including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who staged a one-day filibuster of the bill on Friday - probably will remain opposed to the package. "But most of us believe, as painful as some of the provisions are, this is absolutely essential so that our economy doesn't slump," he said.
The Senate is hoping to complete work on the tax bill on Tuesday, sending it to the House, where Democrats have proved less receptive to the Obama-GOP compromise.
For Democrats in both chambers, the most onerous provision in the package would exempt estates valued at up to $10 million from a newly imposed estate tax. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) has called the measure a giveaway to the wealthy and "a bridge too far," given that Obama has abandoned his campaign pledge to allow the Bush tax breaks for wealthy households to expire.
"Most of us agree with almost all of what the president negotiated," Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) told "Fox News Sunday." "There is one thing that just was the choking point, and that deals with the estate-tax break."
But, he continued, "I am confident that when we get to January, there will be no tax increases on middle-income Americans. We're not going to hold this thing up at the end of the day, but we do think that simple question should be put to the test."