Skip to main content

Bush tax cut fight could derail Senate small-business bill

By Ted Barrett, CNN Senior Congressional Producer
updated 9:46 PM EDT, Tue July 10, 2012
  • A bill would give tax breaks to small businesses that hire new workers or give raises
  • Sen. McConnell says Republicans will insist on a vote on a tax-cut amendment
  • "We'll move through this amendment by amendment," Sen. Reid says

Washington (CNN) -- The Senate voted Tuesday to begin debate on a bill to give tax breaks to small businesses that hire new workers or boost pay for existing workers. But the overwhelming 80-14 vote masks the broad expectation that because of an unrelated fight over the Bush tax cuts, the small business bill is unlikely to pass the chamber.

"You have to wonder whether the bill that we will go to shortly is a serious exercise," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, shortly before the vote, as he a noted a procedural technicality could scuttle the bill even if the Senate did approve it. "So I'm not sure that the majority is interested in passing something."

In addition, McConnell said Republicans would insist on getting a vote on an amendment to extend all the Bush-era tax cuts for one year, which he said would provide some certainty to taxpayers and give lawmakers time to agree on comprehensive tax reform. The GOP push for the tax cut extensions for all filers comes on the heels of President Barack Obama's announcement Monday that he wants to extend the Bush tax cuts only for those earning $250,000 and less.

Top GOP aides privately made clear that Republican senators would consider voting for the bill only if they were first allowed to vote on their tax cut extension proposal.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was non-committal when asked if he would agree to the GOP demand, saying only that "we'll move through this amendment by amendment and see what we can work through."

A vote on the Republican amendment could be tough for some moderate Democrats, especially those facing re-election, as they will be forced to choose between supporting the policy of the Democratic president or their Republican opponents.

Democrats huddled in the Capitol with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner and top Obama campaign aide David Axelrod to discuss the issue.

Reid said about his caucus that "generally everyone agrees" with the president's proposal although he acknowledged it is not unanimous.

Many Republicans like aspects of the small-business tax bill. But they say because it originated in the Senate, it violates a constitutional requirement that revenue bills first pass the House, and therefore it couldn't become law in its current form.

But Republicans also said they consider the bill to be more about political messaging than serious legislating, so that technicality might be moot.

Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news at CNN's Election Center. There are race updates, a delegate counter and much more.
A black man is returning to the White House. Four years ago, it was a first, the breaking of a racial barrier. Tuesday night, it was history redux. And more.
The 2012 presidential election shattered spending records, further polarized a divided country and launched a thousand hashtags.
updated 1:41 PM EST, Thu November 8, 2012
Democratic and Republican congressional leaders continue to sharply disagree over the key issue of whether top tax rates should be raised to help resolve the looming crisis.
updated 2:24 PM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
In a historic turnaround, the ballot box is showing America's shifting attitudes about same-sex marriage.
Even though voters indicated to pollsters that their financial situation is the same or worse than it was four years ago, they put their trust in the president.
updated 4:19 AM EST, Thu November 8, 2012
The president faces a long and familiar set of challenges after riding a wave of support from moderates, women and minorities to victory.
updated 9:27 AM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
Republicans kept a lock on the U.S. House of Representatives, a crucial victory after the party failed to wrest away the presidency from Barack Obama and the Senate from the Democrats.
updated 7:34 PM EST, Wed November 7, 2012
Democrats will retain their control of the Senate after winning several closely contested races on Tuesday.