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Mixed Reaction to US Tax Deal on Capitol Hill

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., second from left, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. From left are, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., McConnell, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. John Barras
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky., second from left, gestures during a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 7, 2010. From left are, Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., McConnell, Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Sen. John Barras

The federal tax deal between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans has prompted divergent reactions from Democratic senators, ranging from anger to resignation. Republican senators sound far more upbeat, one day after Mr. Obama abandoned a central plank of his economic policy - agreeing to a temporary extension of tax cuts for the wealthy.

Senate Republicans secured a commitment from the White House to allow all current tax cuts for all income levels to remain in place, while agreeing to measures to benefit the unemployed and middle-class families.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell struck a positive tone after presenting the deal to fellow Republicans. "I think the vast majority of the Republican caucus in the Senate feel that this is a step in the right direction, an important step to take for the American people. And I think the vast majority of my members will be supporting it," he said.

Less enthusiastic was Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid after a Democratic caucus meeting that featured a visit by Vice President Joe Biden. Reid made clear that, however necessary the tax deal may be, it is a bitter pill for Democrats to swallow.

"We are all appreciative of the work the president has done to move the tax debate forward. While this is not an arrangement many in the [Democratic] caucus would have made, we understand the president is negotiating with congressional Republicans, who are willing to risk everything to secure tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," he said.

Asked if he intends to vote for the tax deal, Reid would only say he will do what he thinks is right. He said many Democratic senators have deep concerns about the proposal.

That may be an understatement. Senator Mary Landrieu, a Democrat from Louisiana suggested the plan amounts to welfare for millionaires at the cost of the poor and middle class, and that she is at a loss to explain why President Obama agreed to the deal.

"He [Obama] basically didn't think any of us cared much about it. Well, I want him to know: I do care," he said.

Such blunt criticism of a president by a senator from his own party is rare.

Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein of California was non-committal on the proposal at her party's caucus, and remained so afterwards. "What we really need to see is the proposal in context, with dollar marks after it, so you can look at it and add it up," she said.

But Senator Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota appears resigned to a distasteful political compromise made necessary by perilous economic conditions. "I think the president did not have much choice. The best economic analysis available to us and available to him indicated that a failure to get a package of about this size would lead to substantially-reduced economic growth next year," he said.

Several Republican senators, including Kit Bond of Missouri, hailed the proposal for its inclusion of a key Republican demand: no taxes hikes for anyone. "It's a great step forward. It's the one thing I think can have a chance of boosting the economy and begin creating the jobs we badly need," Bond said.

But Bond admitted the plan will add hundreds of billions of dollars to America's trillion-dollar federal deficit, since, as of now, few provisions are offset by corresponding cuts in spending. Members of both parties have spoken passionately about the need to trim the deficit. For now, however, Washington appears willing to further expand the deficit in the short term, hoping to spark economic expansion that will make it easier to close the budget gap in the long term.

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