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Obama tax deal gets nod from Senate. Will House risk making changes?

Senators vote to end debate on GOP-Obama tax deal, clearing the way for its passage. Attention now shifts to the House, where liberal Democrats are expected to discuss revisions.

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House majority leader Steny Hoyer (D) of Maryland said that he expects the House to consider revisions to the estate tax, when the bill hits the House floor, as early as Wednesday. “There's much consternation in the House about the estate tax,” he said, responding to questions after a speech at the Press Club today. “I know a number of us believe that there is a compromise available, but we'll have to see where the votes lie,” he added.

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But in a statement after the vote, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that if the House opts to make “partisan changes” in the bill, “they will ensure that every American taxpayer will see a job-killing tax hike on January 1st.”

Tension between Obama and his base in the Congress has been simmering for some time, especially after losses sustained in the Nov. 2 election. Another issue that makes the tax deal especially toxic for many party liberals is that it compromises on an issue for which Democrats felt they had strong public support: no tax cuts for millionaires.

“The liberal base realized they were at a disadvantage on health care with the public as a whole. The one issue where they believed they had traction was tax cuts for millionaires. To see it fall apart this way – and the president seem to cave – created a lot of heartburn,” says Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington.

“But if this deal went down it would be a real disaster for them, especially as we’re seeing poll after poll that show that 60 to 70 percent of Americans like this deal. If it goes down – and it’s blamed on petulant Democrats, what could be worse?” he adds.

But conservatives, too, had strong concerns about voting for a tax deal with billions in additional spending that were not offset. “We’re digging the hole deeper,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma, after the vote.

Four other Republicans joined Coburn in opposing the vote. These included Sens. John Ensign of Nevada and George Voinovich of Ohio, who will not be returning in the 112th Congress; and Sens. Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

Other conservatives who voted for the bill said they expect strong measures on cutting the deficit and entitlement spending this spring, when Congress must vote on extending the national debt limit. “This was a painful vote for me,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R) of Tennessee, who voted for the measure. But he says that the upcoming vote on the debt is going to require Congress to pass “stringent measures on the deficit” this spring. “Having this vote so close was a great solace,” he added.

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