|The newest senator, Republican Mark Kirk, with his mother, Judy, and Vice President Biden yesterday. (Mark Wilson/ Getty Images)|
WASHINGTON — In the first test of Washington’s new political alignment, President Obama will meet with Republican leaders today with the nation’s tax rates and a nuclear arms treaty in doubt. Neither side expects final deals from the meeting, but the sparring could have major short- and long-term consequences.
The expiring Bush-era tax cuts are expected to be a priority. Without quick action, taxpayers could face sharp increases next year as the rates return to levels set during the Clinton administration. Discussions are expected to center on a temporary extension that would put off the partisan clash over the biggest disagreement: whether to permanently extend current rates to all or to raise them for higher-income taxpayers.
The privateWhite House meeting with top lawmakers from both parties is fraught with potential and hazards, for the immediate work left before Congress adjourns this year and for the relationship between Obama and congressional Republicans over the next two years.
Republicans caught a wave of voter disenchantment with the economy on Nov. 2 and wrested control of the House from the Democrats. They also expanded their minority in the Senate. The new lineup presents a dramatically different dynamic for Obama. Though he pledged to bridge partisan divides during his presidential campaign, he ended up passing the big initiatives of his first two years with virtually no Republican support.
“My hope is that tomorrow’s meeting will mark a first step toward a new and productive working relationship,’’ Obama said, “because we now have a shared responsibility to deliver for the American people on the issues that define not only these times but our future.’’
That comment came as he announced a two-year pay freeze for civilian government workers, a step hailed by Republicans and sharply criticized by Democratic allies such as the AFL-CIO.
The most immediate challenges for Congress’s lame-duck session are considering whether to extend the tax rates and whether the Senate will ratify a treaty to reduce nuclear weapons arsenals in the United States and Russia. Republicans want all the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts to be extended permanently. Obama and Democratic leaders want to extend them only for individual taxpayers making less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000.
Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia accused the president of engaging in class warfare. “This country is about making sure everyone has a fair shot,’’ he said. — ASSOCIATED PRESS
In a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates and White House budget director Jacob Lew yesterday, the lawmakers said the money for the alternative engine should be part of a continuing resolution that keeps most government programs at current spending levels.
Gates opposes funds for the GE engine as a waste of money.
“Congress has funded the engine program for 14 consecutive years, including $430 million provided for continued development’’ in fiscal 2010, the lawmakers wrote Gates. The full House voted May 27 to include another $485 million in the pending fiscal 2011 budget.
“Until Congress finalizes action on the budget request, the committee would expect the department to respect the constitutional authority vested in Congress and take the action required to provide the necessary funding,’’ they wrote.
Several Bay State lawmakers, including John Tierney, Democrat of Salem, have pushed for funding of the GE engine, part of which would be built at the company’s plant in Lynn, Mass. — BLOOMBERG NEWS
Kirk is replacing Roland Burris, who had been appointed to fill the remainder of President Obama’s Senate seat. Illinois voters in November elected Kirk to fill out the remainder of Obama’s term and for a full, six-year term after a tight race with Democrat Alexi Giannoulias.
Republicans will now have 42 votes in the Senate, a number that will rise to 47 in January.
Being sworn in gives Kirk a seniority advantage over other incoming senators, who won’t be sworn in until next year. — ASSOCIATED PRESS