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Changing the Senate's Tax Bill

December 13, 2010 - by Donny Shaw

The Senate is now in session and they are about to start voting on Obama’s plan to extend the Bush tax cuts for all income levels in exchange for extending unemployment benefits for 13 months, and some other stuff. It’s expected to pass easily and will be sent to the House for follow-up action, probably on Wednesday. House Democrats have pretty much given up on the idea of walking away from the deal, which they almost unanimously disapprove of, and letting the tax cuts expire. Instead they will hold votes on amendments and see if a majority can agree on any changes. If not, they’ll pass it as is.

National Journal explains how the House will choose amendments to vote on:

Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., today said it is “inevitable” that House Democrats — who last week refused to take the tax deal up for a vote — will compromise on the package. But Hoyer said he expected liberal House Democrats will try to amend the Senate bill, noting that many are targeting the size of the estate tax breaks. Hoyer said they have caused “much consternation" in his party’s ranks.

Discussions on how to make such a change to the Senate bill are under way. Options include splitting off that facet of the bill so that members can vote on it separately, or an amendment to the main bill.

The House committees on Ways and Means and Rules will have a chance to suggest amendments to the Senate bill. If they do “we will have votes on those amendments," Hoyer said.

If any of those amendments pass, the bill will have to go back to the Senate for another vote. But there may be enough support for the Senate-passed bill from House Republicans and retiring centrist Democrats to keep it from being amended. Opposition to the tax compromise is also growing on the right, however: A leading tea party group, the Tea Party Patriots, launched a petition drive against the tax deal today.

The members of the Ways and Means Committee and the Rules Committee will make the first decisions about what will and won’t get votes. For an amendment to be considered, it will first have to be proposed by a member of those committees and then will have to be approved by a majority vote from the committee. This is what is known as a structured rule. No amendments will be allowed from the general body on the House floor, just those pre-approved by the Rules Committee. If it comes out of the Ways and Means Committee, the Chairwoman of the Rules Committee, Rep. Louise Slaughter [D, NY-28], pictured above, will also have to agree to include it as part of the rules package for the debate.

So, these are your key pressure points right now for changing the bill — the 41 members of the Ways and Means Committee and the 14 members of the Rules Committee.

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