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Who will get Bush tax cuts? Congress can't decide.

Unable to agree on who should be eligible to continue to receive the Bush tax cuts, which expire Jan. 1, President Obama and congressional leaders decided to convene a panel Tuesday.

By Staff writer / November 30, 2010

From left, Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky, House minority leader John Boehner (R) of Ohio, and House minority whip Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia wait in the White House after meeting with President Obama. They discussed the Bush tax cuts with Obama.

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Newscom

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Washington

President Obama and congressional leaders on Tuesday tasked a six-man panel with finding a compromise on extension of the Bush tax cuts.

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The president met with congressional leaders of both parties in a gathering Mr. Obama called “productive," and Republican leaders called “frank.” There was no deal on the Bush-era tax cuts – which Republicans want to extend for all families and Obama wants to extend only for families making less than 250,000.

But both sides committed to extending at least some of the Bush-era tax cuts before the 111th Congress winds down in December.

Two Democrats and two Republicans – one each from the House and Senate – will join Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and Jacob Lew, who directs the White House Office of Management and Budget, to “break the logjam,” Obama said.

Both parties assigned their A-listers to the new panel. Republicans appointed Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the deputy Senate Republican leader, and Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, the top Republican on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee. Democrats tasked key committee chairs: Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, who chairs the Senate Finance committee, and Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, the incoming head of the Budget committee.

The leaders "would do anything to avoid hashing all this out on the floor of the Senate,” says Ross Baker, a political scientist at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.

Republicans are united on the principle that no American should face a tax increase in a recession. After gaining control of the House and increasing their ranks in the Senate in midterm elections, Republicans say that the American people are behind them and appear in no mood to compromise.

Republicans united, Democrats divided

Meanwhile, many – but not all – Democrats are rallying around the principle that middle-class tax cuts should be extended. Yet they are divided on what, exactly, constitutes the middle class.

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