WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The Senate will vote on two Democratic options to extend some Bush-era tax cuts on Saturday, its Democratic leader said, measures likely to fail but highlight deep ideological divisions between the parties.
Democratic Senate Leader Harry Reid had been set to schedule four votes on Friday on competing Republican and Democratic tax plans to renew some or all of the lower tax rates enacted under former President George W. Bush.
But the deal fell apart after at least one Republican objected, denying needed unanimous Senate consent, Reid said.
“We’re disappointed,” Reid told reporters.
The votes on Saturday on the two Democratic bills will underscore the party’s aim to renew tax relief for lower- and middle-income Americans and Republicans’ desire to extend them for all taxpayers, including the wealthiest.
But Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell accused his opponents in a statement late on Thursday of staging a meaningless “political show vote” that would run afoul of Republicans and “a growing chorus of Democrats” in the Senate.
“It’s time to get serious,” McConnell said. “Every day spent on a political show-vote is another day that Democrats won’t be able to debate items that should actually pass.”
On Thursday, the U.S. House of Representatives, in the waning days of Democratic control, passed an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for family incomes of up to $250,000.
That measure, approved on a largely party-line vote of 234-188, appears certain to die in the Senate.
The Senate will vote on a measure similar to the House-passed bill, along with a compromise measure offered by Democratic Senator Charles Schumer, which would let the top tax rates expire only on income above $1 million a year.
“We want to lay it out there and finally get votes on what we’re for,” Democratic Senator Tom Harkin said after a meeting with Democrats late on Thursday. “I suppose after this is over we’ll get down to see what we can finally get done.”
Democratic aides said Republicans had offered two alternatives, one to permanently renew all tax cuts, the other to extend them for five years.
Most Democrats say Republicans are willing to jeopardize low tax rates for middle- and lower-income taxpayers to ensure low taxes for the wealthiest Americans.
The measures set for a vote on Saturday are not likely to muster the needed 60 votes in the 100-member chamber to clear a Republican procedural roadblock. Meanwhile, congressional leaders and the Obama administration officials are set to continue private talks of their own.
Senior Democratic aides said they did not expect any significant progress until at least next week.
The tax cuts were signed into law by former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003 and are set to expire December 31.
Voters in the November 2 elections gave Republicans big gains in Congress, though polls have show most Americans side with Democrats on the tax issue.
A CBS News poll this week found 53 percent of Americans want the Bush-era rates extended for household income only up to $250,000 — the Democrats’ preferred option.
About 26 percent want the additional cuts for the wealthiest, the poll of 808 adults nationwide found. It has a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points.
Another Democratic aide said many Democrats were worried the White House would not stand up to Republicans.
“There’s a growing concern that the White House won’t fight hard enough for the middle class and will cave (on extending tax cuts for wealthier Americans) without getting much in return,” the aide said.
The top House Republican blasted Thursday’s vote on renewing only lower-tax rates as political maneuvering that would undermine the bipartisan talks.
“This is nonsense, all right? The election was one month ago,” said John Boehner, in line to become House speaker.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and White House budget chief Jacob Lew met with two Republicans and two Democrats twice on Wednesday and again on Thursday.
If no agreement is reached, all tax-paying Americans could face higher bills next year, giving Republicans a chance to score politically by making tax cuts their priority when taking control of the House in January.
Many observers, including some Democratic aides who asked not to be identified, believe a one-to-three year extension of all the Bush-era rates is the most likely scenario.
In exchange, Obama administration officials hope to win Republican consent to an extension of long-term unemployment insurance and to Senate ratification of the New START nuclear treaty with Russia.
They are also pushing to extend a tax credit for employers who hire previously unemployed workers and renewal of a credit for working individuals who make less than $75,000 a year, according to administration officials.
Any deal is likely to be coupled with an extension of business and individual tax breaks that have expired this year, including a research and development tax credit.
Division among Democrats has weakened their position. A few dozen conservative Democrats back the Republican stance that lower tax rates for all income groups should be extended.
Most Democrats, however, say the United States cannot afford the tax cuts for the wealthy — estimated at $700 billion over 10 years — and that the wealthiest are unlikely to spend the extra cash in any event.
Additional reporting by Jeff Mason, Matt Spetalnick and Thomas Ferraro; Editing by Stacey Joyce and Todd Eastham