The decision to schedule a vote reflects a growing frustration among Democrats
as they try to keep the administration from negotiating away their must-do list of legislative initiatives. In repeated meetings this week, White House officials made it clear to Senate Democrats they were willing to accept temporary extensions of the tax cuts for all income groups
rather than risk the defeat of the START treaty, according to two Senate staffers familiar with the talks.
But Senate Democrats have expressed concern about whether they would get enough in return for agreeing to a temporary tax cut extension, which many would view as a cave-in
on the first major test for Democrats after a midterm election drubbing. "Democrats have been blasting the Bush tax cuts for 10 years
. We aren't going to pass up a chance to vote our conscience on them because the White House has decided to negotiate it away for an extension of Ronald Reagan's START treaty
," said a Senate Democratic staffer close to the talks.
Senate Democrats emerged from a nearly three-hour caucus meeting Thursday as divided as when they started
, with no clear endgame for resolving the partisan standoff over tax cuts. "People were all over the map here
," one Democratic senator said. "A lot of very strong opinions were expressed."
The meeting focused exclusively on tax cuts, and a number of senators expressed serious frustration at the willingness of the White House to cave in
on a two-year tax cut extension that's unpaid for, saying it was unfair that benefits for the jobless had to be offset but not tax cuts for the wealthy. But others said that their colleagues needed to accept the political reality
that the cuts would be extended temporarily — and that the caucus needed to structure the votes so it can get the best political deal possible.