Tax deal set to move on Capitol Hill

TAX DEAL SET TO MOVE ON CAPITOL HILL…. The Senate is poised to advance the tax deal negotiated by the White House and congressional Republicans, and proponents are optimistic about passage.

Despite the lingering reservations of many Democrats, the latest tallies by party leaders suggest that the Obama-GOP package will clear the Senate with relative ease, Senate Majority Whip Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) told CNN’s “State of the Union” on Sunday.

“We’re counting votes in the Senate,” he said. “Harry Reid and I have been on the phone over the weekend and I can say that we have a good cross-section of the Senate Democratic caucus, from left to right, who are prepared to accept this,” he added, referring to the majority leader.

The plan, at this point, is for the Senate to wrap up its work on the package tomorrow.

Of course, in nearly every instance, getting bills through the Senate is infinitely more difficult than the process in the House — but in this case, it’s reversed. The Senate has long been considered the easier sell on the agreement, while House passage has remained in doubt.

Yesterday, a leading House Democrat offered mixed signals.

Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), who will join the [House Budget Committee] next year as ranking member, and other House Democrats oppose an estate tax provision in the proposal, saying Obama was “out-negotiated” on the matter. In response to whether the House will vote on the proposal, Van Hollen insisted on “Fox News Sunday” that the House will “work its will” on the legislation but that “we’re not talking about blocking the whole thing.”

Van Hollen added “most” House Dems “agree with almost all of what the president negotiated,” but the caucus considers the estate-tax provisions “the choking point.”

It’s unclear exactly what the caucus intends to do if those provisions remain intact.

That said, Van Hollen, the outgoing chair of the DCCC, went on to suggest the issue will be resolved fairly soon: “I am confident that when we get to January, there will be no tax increases on middle-income Americans. We’re not going to hold this thing up at the end of the day, but we do think that simple question should be put to the test.”

I don’t want to read too much into that, but if House Democrats intended to scuttle the agreement, call the GOP’s bluff, allow rates to go up, and then take their case to the public, Van Hollen’s message yesterday probably would have been quite different.