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Minnesota lawmakers respond with little enthusiasm to tax deal

WASHINGTON — Here’s the reaction so far by Minnesota’s congressional delegation to the tax-cut compromise President Obama brokered with GOP leaders: A big fat zero members are enthusiastically embracing the deal. Most, including Sens.

WASHINGTON — Four Minnesota House Democrats voted to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for just those making $250,000 or less a year last week, a vote that found a majority in the House. Both Minnesota senators did the same over the weekend, but — stop me if you’ve heard this before — that vote couldn’t muster the 60 votes needed to choke off a filibuster.

Stuck between 50 votes to pass and 60 to end a filibuster, President Obama brokered a compromise with GOP leaders that extends the expiring tax cuts for two years without exception, along with some additional tax cuts, in exchange for an extension of unemployment benefits.

MinnPost sent inquiries to every member of the Minnesota congressional delegation, and here’s what we got: A big fat zero members enthusiastically embracing the deal. Most, including Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, said they were still studying the proposal.

Others, including Reps. Betty McCollum, Keith Ellison and Michele Bachmann, voiced emphatic concerns with a framework that includes at least one provision each finds noxious.

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“This is a deal that will continue to explode the deficit while the rich get richer and struggling middle class families get crumbs,” McCollum said in a blistering statement. “The Republicans successfully held unemployed Americans hostage to give even more tax cuts to millionaires and billionaires. This plan is irresponsible, and I will oppose it.”

Bachmann released this statement about the proposal this morning:

“Certainty must be provided to individuals, businesses large and small, farmers, and everyone impacted by the tax code. I called for the current tax rates to be made permanent for all Americans, but it appears a compromise for a two-year extension will be the temporary solution.

“It was irresponsible for Congress to adjourn in September and hit the campaign trail without finalizing the tax rates. The American people are tired of uncertainty, and this compromise on a two-year extension for all will at least offer a foundation for job creation for the immediate future.

“As part of the compromise, the President wants to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 months. Unemployment benefits are already at a historical length of 99 weeks, and the President’s request would push benefits to three years. The President hasn’t indicated any other spending offsets or reductions to pay for these benefits, even though he claims to be committed to reducing the deficit. Our economy doesn’t have a moment to waste and it’s vital that we stop these tax increases now, but we cannot overlook the consequences of another unfunded extension of unemployment benefits. Along with the American people, I anxiously await the final version of the bill that will bring certainly to our nation’s taxpayers.”

‘Chilling prospect’
Obama said Monday the compromise was forced by the impending tax bill increases scheduled on Jan. 1 — calling it a “chilling prospect” for the American people.

“I am not willing to let that happen,” Obama said. “I know there’s some people in my own party and in the other party who would rather prolong this battle, even if we can’t reach a compromise.  But I’m not willing to let working families across this country become collateral damage for political warfare here in Washington.  And I’m not willing to let our economy slip backwards just as we’re pulling ourselves out of this devastating recession.”

Make no mistake: this wasn’t a 50-50 compromise. If adopted, Democrats would swallow a vote for tax cuts for the rich — an idea every recent Democratic presidential candidate (Obama included) and most in the party campaigned against. Yes, it’s only for two years, but Dems also failed to decouple tax cuts for $250,000+ earners (or even $1 million+ earners) from the rest of them, thus failing to set up a show-me vote further down the road.

Instead, the debate in two years will be about extending existing tax cuts “for every American,” a rhetorical debate Republicans are using this year, used in 2001 to pass the cuts in the first place and will undoubtedly use as the 2012 campaign season comes to a close.

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In exchange, GOP leaders agreed to extend unemployment benefits for another 13 months. Is it a big ask? Maybe for some, like Bachmann, but it’s a popular policy nationally. An unemployment benefits extension had 60 percent support nationally in a mid-November poll.

Senate Democrats will meet later today to discuss the deal framework, which so far has received a cool reaction within the caucus.

“Now that the President has outlined his proposal, Senator Reid plans on discussing it with his caucus,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s spokesman, Jim Manley, said in a brief statement to reporters late Monday that conspicuously omitted saying anything nice about the deal.

Republican leader Mitch McConnell, in contrast, had a far more positive take, calling it a “framework of a bipartisan agreement to prevent tax hikes.”

More on this is inevitably coming — remember this is just the “framework” of a deal, and actual legislation has to clear the House and Senate by Dec. 17, when the House and Senate are set to adjourn for the year.

Here are the latest statements from other members of the Minnesota delegation:

5th District Rep. Keith Ellison (with  Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva)
We call on our Congressional leaders in the House and Senate to hold firm on passing a middle class tax cut with no strings attached. We also call on Congressional Republicans to stop using unemployed Americans as bargaining chips in exchange for another tax break for the wealthy.
Tax breaks for billionaires don’t create jobs. The George W. Bush Presidency and the Republican recession are proof of that. Giving rich people more money just for being rich does nothing to help the economy, in fact, serves only to exacerbate our problems.  No amount of Republican rhetoric can change that fact.
We simply cannot afford to borrow another $700 billion to give tax breaks to millionaires and billionaires who aren’t paying their fair share, especially when there are millions of Americans still looking for work.  Just 1 percent of that $700 billion would pay for almost 142,000 elementary school teachers for an entire year. That money should be used to create jobs, rebuild our infrastructure and educate our children, not for the wealthy to buy more yachts.
We agree with the President that there is no time to delay — the recovery is fragile, and American families are hurting.  We need to make the right decisions right now, to boost our economy.  The unemployment crisis is a harsh reality for millions of Americans and giving more money to the super rich won’t do anything to solve it.
This holiday season should be about supporting middle class Americans, not another taxpayer funded present for the wealthy.  

3rd District Rep. Erik Paulsen
I’m encouraged by the fact that the president came over to an extension of all the tax cuts. I really do need to see the details but I like what I see.

8th District Rep. Jim Oberstar
There are a lot of questions I will need to have addressed before I can decide if I will support a tax cut for millionaires that will cost more than the stimulus package which Republicans opposed so bitterly.
Republicans held two million unemployed Americans hostage so they could carve out tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. I can’t justify continuing a tax break worth $100,000 a year for someone with an income of over a million dollars,  while you are cutting off a $350 dollar a week unemployment benefit that is helping a hard working family.

2nd District Rep. John Kline
The deal is far from perfect, but Congressman Kline is pleased the President heeded the call of Republicans to ensure no one faces a tax increase next year. The Congressman remains committed to providing certainty for the private sector so Minnesota families can plan and businesses small and large can start putting Americans back to work.

1st District Rep. Tim Walz
I am disappointed. However, I do not believe that compromise, by virtue, is a bad thing and so I am willing to consider this proposal. That being said, I have not made a decision and I would need to read the final legislation before doing so. I firmly believe tax cuts for middle class American taxpayers will help fuel our economy and unemployment benefits stimulate our economy as families spend those dollars at the local grocery store or putting gas in their car. I also still firmly believe that tax cuts for millionaires add to the federal debt without any economic benefit. In the coming days, I will consult with southern Minnesotans as I do with any proposal in front of me.