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Senate vote on tax cuts likely to be delayed, Democratic sources say

From Dana Bash and Ted Barrett, CNN
  • Democratic senators plan to discuss Thursday when to vote on Bush tax cuts
  • Division among Democrats is likely to delay a vote, Democratic sources say
  • Having the vote after November "could be the safer political move," one source says

Washington (CNN) -- With Democrats divided on tax cuts, a Senate vote before the election on extending Bush-era tax cuts for the middle class is looking less likely, multiple Senate Democratic sources tell CNN.

These sources all stress that no final decision has been made, and that Senate Democrats could come to a different conclusion after discussing the issue at a meeting Thursday afternoon.

Still, one senior Democratic senator told CNN that a tax cut bill "isn't going anywhere at this point." The senator spoke on condition of anonymity in order to talk about internal deliberations.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, however, did speak freely, telling CNN, "I think it's headed to after the election."

Democratic senators, like their colleagues in the House, have been split about whether it makes sense politically to hold a vote before the election.

Many Democratic sources say they feel that with the help of the president, their message in recent weeks that Democrats want to extend middle class tax cuts, and Republicans want to keep tax cuts for the wealthy, is starting to resonate in key states.

The president and Democratic leaders want to stick their 2008 campaign pledge to extend cuts only for families making $250,000 and less.

These sources say some Democrats from conservative states in tough re-election battles could get hammered by their GOP opponents for raising taxes if they vote to extend tax cuts only for the middle class and let tax cuts for wealthy Americans expire.

"They could get hit with effectively voting to raise taxes," one senior Democratic source explained, "not having a vote at all right now could be the safer political move."

Another senior Democratic source said, "People feel like the stakes of this debate are already defined and we're winning. A vote may make it murky."

Making things more complicated for Senate Democratic leaders is the fact that several Senate Democrats agree with Republicans that all tax cuts should be extended, including those for wealthy Americans.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, said last week he did plan to try to bring up a bill extending tax cuts for middle class Americans before leaving for the election. But since then he has been having meetings with Democratic senators, especially those in tough re-election battles, and gotten mixed opinions on whether it is wise to move forward on a vote now.

Democratic leaders are no longer publicly promising to hold a vote.

"We are holding a caucus meeting tomorrow where we plan to continue to discuss a path forward," said Reid spokesman Jim Manley.

Regardless of what is done before the election, Democrats say they do plan to hold votes on extending taxes before they expire at the end of this year.

If Senate Democrats do not hold a vote, it would also make it less likely a vote would take place in the House.

House Democrats are as divided as Senate Democrats on the question of which tax cuts to extend, and therefore have the same concerns about whether it is wise to move before the election.

House Democratic leaders have also said they are waiting to see what the Senate does before deciding how to proceed.