House Freshmen for 2011 Gather as Congress Prepares to Address Tax Cuts

The 2011 U.S. House freshman class is in Washington for orientation as Congress today opens a lame-duck session to decide whether to extend billions of dollars in Bush-era income-tax cuts.

“I’m just looking forward to getting started,” Republican Jim Renacci of Ohio, who beat Democratic Representative John Boccieri in the Nov. 2 election, said in an interview yesterday. Renacci said his first priority when the new lawmakers take office in January is that “we’ve got to get spending under control.”

The members-elect attended a reception and separate dinners for Democrats and Republicans. They will undergo orientation this week as legislative leaders meet with President Barack Obama on tax cuts and House members of both parties meet in private to choose their leaders for next year.

Democrats announced a plan to keep their team in place, although they ordinarily would lose one position upon becoming the minority party in January.

“This is about the freshman class,” said Virginia Representative Eric Cantor, the No. 2 ranking House Republican, as he walked to the reception at a hotel about a mile from the Capitol. “It’s an opportunity for them to get to know one another. I’m just here to get to know them and meet all the new faces.”

Democrat Karen Bass of Los Angeles said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California offered a toast to the new members of both parties at the reception and spoke of the need to “freshen” Congress every two years. Pelosi is running to become minority leader in 2011.

Tax Cuts

Renacci said he expects the lame-duck Congress to extend the Bush-era tax cuts, which expire at the end of the year. “We need to make sure those tax cuts are extended” to help the economy, he said. If they lapse, he said he hopes Republicans will try to renew them retroactively.

Obama and congressional Democrats want to continue the tax cuts only for the first $200,000 in income for individuals and $250,000 for couples. Republicans insist on a permanent extension of the tax cuts for all income levels.

Obama told reporters yesterday he’s committed to extending tax cuts for middle-class Americans by the end of the year and indicated he’s willing to negotiate with Republicans on an extension for the country’s highest earners.

Immigration, Jobless Benefits

Lawmakers also may address issues including immigration, an extension of unemployment benefits and food safety. Bass said her top hope is that lawmakers extend federal jobless benefits scheduled to expire Nov. 30.

Democrat Hansen Clarke, who will represent a district in Detroit, said his primary goal will be to listen to taxpayers and work with Republicans in the majority. “I really don’t care about partisanship,” he said. “The public is tired of all this partisan infighting.”

On taxes, Clarke said he supports keeping lower rates for capital gains to help entice investment in Detroit, where he said industry should begin diversifying from automobile manufacturing to sectors like alternative energy.

Democrats will still control the both houses during the lame-duck session. Republicans won at least 60 seats from the Democrats on Nov. 2. Republicans also gained six seats in the Senate, trimming the Democrats’ control to 53- 47.

Leadership Elections

House Democrats will elect their leaders on Nov. 17. Pelosi, 70, is creating a third leadership position under a plan that will keep all three members of the current team.

Steny Hoyer of Maryland, 71, the current majority leader, would get the No. 2 job of minority whip in January. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, 70, now majority whip, would hold the post of assistant leader, created to head off a contest for the whip position.

North Carolina Democrat Health Shuler said he will challenge Pelosi for the minority leader’s job although he said he lacks the numbers to win. Having Pelosi as minority leader is “unacceptable for our party, to move our party forward in a moderate direction,” Shuler said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Clarke and Bass said they support Pelosi to be minority leader.

House Republicans will choose their leaders Nov. 18. Minority leader John Boehner of Ohio has no opposition to become speaker, and Cantor is in line to become majority leader.

Arizona Republican Paul Gosar, who beat Democratic incumbent Ann Kirkpatrick, said his arrival in Washington has been a blur. “People coming in very fast, moving out very fast,” he told a television interviewer as he stood next to his wife, clasping her hand. “I’m just a small- town pol.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Ryan J. Donmoyer in Washington at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Mark Silva in Washington at


Tax-cut extension deal takes shape on Hill

Lame-duck Congress limps back in session

ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE - In a Sept. 17, 2010 file photo, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., speaks in Washington. Seven weeks ahead of the GOP House takeover, hobbled Democrats and invigorated Republicans return Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, to a testy tax dispute and a lengthy to-do list for a post-election session of Congress unlikely to achieve any landmark legislation.ASSOCIATED PRESS FILE - In a Sept. 17, 2010 file photo, Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., speaks in Washington. Seven weeks ahead of the GOP House takeover, hobbled Democrats and invigorated Republicans return Monday, Nov. 15, 2010, to a testy tax dispute and a lengthy to-do list for a post-election session of Congress unlikely to achieve any landmark legislation.

By David Sands The Washington Times  8:56 p.m., Sunday, November 14, 2010

The White House and Republicans in Congress edged ever closer to a deal Sunday on at least a temporary extension of all of the George W. Bush-era tax breaks that are due to expire at the end of the year.

White House senior political adviser David Axelrod and Sen. Jim DeMint, the South Carolina Republican who has emerged as a major power broker for the chamber's ascendant conservative bloc, signaled in appearances on Sunday talk shows a willingness to cut a deal in the lame-duck session of Congress that convenes Monday.

The two sides, however, remain well short of an agreement.

With taxpayers facing major increases in their tax bills after Jan. 1, congressional Republicans have pressed for a permanent extension of all the tax cuts. Mr. Obama and congressional Democrats, citing what they say is the negative effects the cuts will have on deficits, want to preserve "middle-class" tax breaks while ending them for wealthier Americans.

Mr. DeMint, speaking on "Fox News Sunday," said he could consider what is emerging as the leading compromise position: a full extension of the middle-class tax cuts and a "temporary" extension of the higher-end breaks as well.

"I hope we can get a permanent extension," he said. "But ... if that's all we can get out of the president ... we'll work with him on that."

Mr. Axelrod, who angered Democrats last week by suggesting Mr. Obama may have to back down on the issue, considering the major GOP gains in the midterm elections, talked tough Sunday, but left clear negotiating space for a short-term extension of all the Bush tax cuts.

"The bottom line is that [President Obama] wants to sit down and talk about this," Mr. Axelrod said on NBC's "Meet the Press."

"There's no bend on permanent extension of tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans," he added, leaving room for a temporary extension.

The administration official added the White House hoped to have the tax-cut impasse resolved in the next few weeks, in part because of the uncertainty that would come if the cuts expire and in part because of the Democrats' weaker bargaining position in the next Congress.

Mr. Obama himself told reporters on Air Force One on his way back from a 10-day Asia trip that he thought a deal could be reached that includes "making sure that taxes don't go up for middle-class families starting January 1."

But he also indicated he may position himself as deficit hawk in the talks, saying he wanted to hear how Republicans "intend to pay for" an extension on all tax cuts, "particularly given that they're also saying they want to control the deficit and debt."

Sen.-elect Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican and a likely ally of Mr. DeMint in the next Congress, said Sunday he would stand firm for a permanent extension of all the tax cuts when he takes his seat in January.

"Really, the compromise is where you find the reductions in spending," Mr. Paul said on CBS' "Face the Nation." "I don't think the compromise is in raising taxes."

The tax-cut question dominated the Sunday talk shows and is likely to dominate the lame-duck session of Congress, which will include a large contingent of Democratic lawmakers who were defeated in their re-election bids. Lawmakers return to town Monday to debate the expiring tax cuts and deal with a Dec. 3 deadline to pass a new series of spending bills to keep the government functioning.

Other issues that might come up in the lame-duck session include a New START missile-reduction treaty with Russia and repeal of the "don't ask, don't tell policy" on gays in the military that Democrats have tried to insert into a major defense authorization bill.

Mr. Obama, who concluded a lengthy Asia trip Sunday, told reporters on the plane flight home that he specifically hoped to have a ratification vote in the Senate by the end of the year. The lame-duck agenda will be the top topic when Mr. Obama hosts the bipartisan congressional leadership at the White House on Thursday.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who leads the Republican minority in the Senate, has introduced a bill to extend all the tax cuts permanently, but has left himself room to accept something less than that for now.

"I'm willing to listen to what the president has in mind for protecting Americans from tax increases," Mr. McConnell said in a statement released Sunday.

Mr. Obama faces unhappiness from his own party over possible compromises on the tax-cut issue. Arguing that polls show strong voter opposition to extending the tax breaks for the "wealthy" - defined in the debate as individuals making more than $200,000 annually and households with incomes of more than $250,000 a year - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and others have urged Mr. Obama to stand firm in the debate.

Lame-duck Congress to confront agenda of competing demands

Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, answers questions at a Nov. 3 news conference in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)Senate majority leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, answers questions at a Nov. 3 news conference in Las Vegas. (Associated Press)

By Seth McLaughlin  The Washington Times  8:46 p.m., Thursday, November 11, 2010

Lawmakers returning Monday for the start of the lame-duck session on Capitol Hill face an age-old political conundrum: How to respond to voter anger over federal spending without cutting into the entitlement programs and tax breaks that so many of their constituents enjoy.

It's a thorny political issue that promises to haunt lawmakers, who face renewed electoral pressure to speak out against government spending and the soaring national debt, but who also spent the campaign season avoiding detailed discussions about the nation's fiscal health beyond vague generalities and fuzzy math about their plans to cut waste and reduce spending.

"You get a very different reaction when you tell people, 'I'm going to cut spending,' versus telling people, 'I'm going to cut Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid and veterans' benefits,'" said Donald Marron, director of the nonpartisan Urban Institute and Tax Policy Center. "Those sound really different."

While those sacred cows will not be on the table during the lame-duck session that starts Monday and could run into December, there are numerous issues that could affect voters.

Congress will have the opportunity to try to resolve their differences about the estate tax, to extend unemployment benefits and to come up with a temporary fix for the alternative minimum tax.

Lawmakers also could take up the White House's push to ratify the new arms-reduction treaty with Russia and a dozen spending bills that Congress put off earlier this year by agreeing on a stopgap bill to keep the government from shutting down on Oct. 1, the start of the fiscal year. Among them is the Pentagon spending bill that includes a controversial provision to end the "don't ask, don't tell" military policy that bars open gays from serving in the military, a goal President Obama has said he shares since taking office.

In addition, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid also has promised a vote on any recommendations agreed to by at least 14 of 18 members of Mr. Obama's deficit-reduction commission, and that he would bring up the Dream Act, a proposal that would offer a path to citizenship to illegal immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as minors.

Meanwhile, conservatives in the Senate will push their Republican colleagues to end the practice of requesting earmarks, or pork-barrel projects.

But the big question that will loom over the lame-duck session will be whether Congress can agree to renew the tax cuts passed in 2001 and 2003 under President George W. Bush — a debate that some view as the opening round in a broader battle over how to rein in federal spending and reform the country's complex tax system.

For months, Republicans have argued that they all must be extended, lest Congress raise taxes at the time of a fragile economy. Mr. Obama and Democrats say the cuts should be extended only for individuals earning less than $200,000 and households earning less than $250,000. They point to Congressional Budget Office estimates that letting the cuts lapse for higher-income earners would generate $700 billion in new revenue over the next 10 years, which could help keep down the $13.727 trillion national debt and trillion-dollar annual deficits.

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