Washington Week

The tax man won't be coming
By: Elizabeth Letchworth | Posted: December 18, 2010 4:05 AM

Elizabeth Letchworth photo
This week saw members of Congress riding on a crazy roller coaster that ended when the House voted to pass the “global tax agreement” early Friday morning by a vote of 277 to 148, thereby sending the bill to the president for his signature.

This wild ride began to slow down earlier Thursday night when the Senate majority leader, Harry Reid, D-Nev., abandoned his week-long intention to pass the 1,924-page omnibus appropriations bill. This was the bill that cobbled together the 12 appropriations bills that had failed to pass in the regular congressional session and was stuffed with $8.3 billion of earmarks.

The Senate majority leader announced just before abandoning consideration of the omnibus bill that our federal government agencies will continue to be funded at their current levels through early spring of 2011.

While members of the House were negotiating this roller coaster ride, the House chamber passed a stand-alone repeal of the Defense Department policy known as “don’t ask, don’t tell.” This Defense policy has been in effect since 1994 and Congress has been trying to repeal it since the summer. The vote was 250 to 175.

While the Senate was waiting for the global tax agreement to pass in the House, it began debate on the START treaty.  Before beginning the START treaty, the Senate earlier in the week overwhelmingly passed the global tax agreement by a vote of 81 to 19.

The Senate will stay in through part of the weekend, not to debate funding the federal government as originally planned, but to conduct two procedural votes. These Saturday votes will be on the DREAM Act and the “don’t ask, don’t tell” repeal bill. Both of these bills failed to garner the needed 60 votes to pass in the Senate last week. However, the majority leader seems to believe they stand a better chance of passing this weekend because time is running out for these bills to pass before Congress adjourns for the Christmas holiday.

Sen. Reid is banking on the idea that the overall Senate desire to go home for the holidays will outweigh true objections to these bills. The majority leader is gambling that enough senators will be in attendance for these Saturday votes and that at least 60 senators will be willing to vote to advance both of these bills to the president for his signature. Stay tuned to see if the roller coaster has finally come to a halt or if the wild ride speeds up again with the weekend votes in the Senate.

Elizabeth B. Letchworth is a retired, elected United States Senate secretary for the majority and minority. Currently she is a senior legislative adviser for Covington & Burling, LLC and is the founder of

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