Tuesday, December 14, 2010

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing: Estate Tax in Play?

CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

Tuesday, Dec. 14, 2010

 Today In Washington

(Daily Briefing editor David Hawkings is off today.)

THE SENATE: Convened at 10 to use up debate time on the tax bill. A vote on the measure could come this evening.

THE HOUSE: Convenes at 2 to consider several noncontroversial bills while it waits for the Senate to get moving on the year-end agenda.

THE WHITE HOUSE: The president holds his monthly meeting on Afghanistan and Pakistan with his national security team. Noticeably absent will be Richard Holbrooke, Obama’s point-man for the war, who died late Monday at George Washington Hospital. He was 69.

TIME FOR A GAME PLAN: While the Senate runs down the clock on the Obama tax deal, House Democratic leaders are sorting out how they’ll handle the bill once it comes over. Ways and Means Chairman Sandy Levin will meet with his fellow Democrats on the panel today to consider their options.

Hoyer said yesterday that he sees room for changing the deal’s estate-tax provisions, but he was mum on specifics. Whatever the case, a serious vote-count would be in order. House Democrats generally prefer a 45 percent tax levied on estates worth at least $3.5 million; in 2009 the chamber voted 225-200 in favor of setting it at that level. The question is how many of those 225 “yes” votes would still be in play. The tax lapsed this year and is slated to return in 2011 to a 55 percent top rate on estates worth more than $1 million.

SAVE IT FOR NEXT YEAR: Even after senators voted yesterday to move ahead with the tax measure, a few continued to press their concerns. California Democrat Dianne Feinstein pushed Reid to allow a vote on an amendment to reduce government subsidies for ethanol — an industry that environmentalists say uses too much fertilizer and harms sensitive farmland.

Feinstein isn’t likely to prevail, so the debate is really about setting the stage for next year. Ethanol is one of those issues that cuts across party and regional lines: For instance, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa — one of many GOP vets who played to the party’s fiscally conservative base during this year’s elections — is a staunch supporter of ethanol subsidies, which help corn-growers in his state.

NO LABELS, NO AGENDA? The new advocacy group No Labels kicked off a campaign yesterday in New York to give a louder voice to the center of American politics. But the group’s message focused almost entirely on calls for civility and against political extremism, leaving some to wonder if it stood for anything at all.

Officially, the group doesn’t have an agenda, but its founders, speakers and volunteers mentioned a few issues which it could take up: a deficit-reduction plan with both spending cuts and tax hikes, campaign finance reform and small-bore things such as getting members of both parties to eat lunch together more. Definitely not on the agenda: Divisive social issues such as gay rights and abortion. The environment also went unmentioned at the daylong event.

THE CIVILITY CAUCUS: Disaffected voters aren’t the only ones seeking to revitalize the political center. The House's bipartisan Center Aisle Caucus wants to claim the middle ground as the high ground as member Mark Kirk moves up to the Senate. Kirk said he will try to develop more bipartisan gatherings off Capitol Hill. The group had a few retreats in the late ’90s, but the events petered out in the middle of the Bush years. It currently has about 40 House members (a little over 9 percent of that chamber), but likely co-chairman Russ Carnahan said they’re going to try to recruit more in the upcoming session.

HERE COME THE HOUSE GUYS: Along with Kirk, the GOP’s Senate freshman class includes five other House veterans, including Roy Blunt, who was minority whip during several congresses. Jon Kyl, the Senate GOP’s whip, said he hopes to use the class’s bicameral knowledge as much as possible. Blunt, meanwhile, says that he hasn’t been asked to take any formal role as liaison, but he sees plenty of room for the chambers to work together.

The last person to have an official role as Senate liaison to the House, from either party? Hill insiders say it was Trent Lott, who was given the job after he stepped down as majority leader and Bill Frist took over.

THE FIFTH MAN: Senate Democrats’ soon-to-be No. 5 man is carving out a big role for himself as chairman of the party’s Steering and Outreach Committee. Mark Begich — already the unofficial emissary to the old guard for junior members — cites his penchant for structural changes for landing him the new gig, and the Alaskan vows to bring a “different perspective” to the table.
 
“When I was asked by a couple of Members would I be interested, you know, I said, ‘If it helps out, but I’m not changing my stripes,’” he said. “Being in that fifth position does not mean that suddenly I’m a different person. If that’s the case, then I’m not interested.” That could prove important for the first-term senator, who risks alienating moderates in his red state by taking the leadership role.

— Joe Warminsky and CQ staff

Become a Facebook fan of David Hawkings at facebook.com/DavidHawkingsDC. Or follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/davidhawkings.

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Editor's Picks From The CQ Roll Call Newsroom

What's on No Labels' Agenda? (Congress.org)

The kickoff meeting of the new centrist group did not include a specific agenda, but we found a few issues it might pursue. » View full article

House Democrats Eye Changes to Tax Deal (CQ Today)

House Democrats still hope to toughen estate tax language, even though making changes could threaten the compromise reached by the White House and Senate Republicans. » View full article

Ethanol Subsidies Add Fuel to the Tax Debate (Roll Call)

Opponents of federal ethanol subsidies mounted a last-minute campaign to reduce the industry's funds in the tax package. No matter what happens this week, the issue is far from settled. » View full article

Centrist House Group Looks for Middle Ground in Senate (CQ Today)

With the Senate headed toward a narrower partisan margin next year, one House group sees an opportunity to extend its reach to the other chamber. » View full article

New Senators May Make House Calls (Roll Call)

Republicans have high hopes that the party's incoming crop of freshman senators may help the party build stronger ties between the chambers. » View full article

Begich Preps for Spotlight With Seat in Leadership (Roll Call)

The Alaskan has barely been in the Senate two years, but he's been active on big issues. So it may seem strange to hear him say that he wasn't angling for his new gig as the fifth-ranking Democrat. » View full article
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Joe Warminsky
jwarminsky@cq.com

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