WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans blocked legislation Saturday to let upper-income tax cuts expire on Jan. 1, a showdown scripted by Democrats eager to showcase GOP lawmakers as defenders of millionaires.
"Do we want to extend those tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires at a time of huge deficits. I would argue vociferously we shouldn't," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY, shortly before the vote.
Republicans countered that no taxes should be raised at a time the economy is recovering from a recession. "It is the most astounding theory I have ever seen, raise taxes to create jobs," said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota.
Both measures proposed would have extended expiring cuts for the middle class.
Ironically, the votes were widely seen as a prelude to a possible agreement next week between the White House and congressional leaders on legislation that would avert tax increases at all income levels, as Republicans want.
Any agreement is also expected to extend jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, a Democratic priority, and possibly renew tax breaks the White House wants for college students, companies that hire the unemployed and lower- and middle-class wage earners.
The Senate took the two votes on bills that would have permitted tax cuts to remain in effect at most incomes.
A proposal to let tax rates rise on Jan. 1 on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples fell on a vote of 53-36 in favor, seven short of the 60 needed to advance.
An alternative advanced by Schumer and others — but opposed by the White House — would have let rates rise on incomes over $1 million. The vote was 53-37, also seven short of the 60 needed.