Democrats and Republicans conducted an exercise in political theater Wednesday by holding Senate votes on their competing tax proposals, even though both appeared destined for failure.
The Democratic bill--which extends tax cuts through 2013 for all individuals except those who jointly earn over $250,000, passed in the Democratic-controlled Senate by a vote of 51 to 48. The bill saved Democrats the embarrassment of having a measure supported by the president fail in the chamber they control, but the bill has virtually no hope of passage in the Republican-controlled House.
The Republican bill, which extended tax cuts for all individuals, earlier failed by a vote of 45 to 54.
"We're in the middle of a partisan war all welled up in the crucible of an election year for president, and as a result, we're gonna have two tax votes today that don't pass," Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida said on the Senate floor prior to the vote.
Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky lamented that the GOP bill would fail, but added during his Senate floor speech that the "good news" is "this new convoluted Democratic bill will never make it to the president's desk."
Republicans argued the Democratic bill extended death or inheritance taxes and raised taxes on small businesses, as well as raising taxes on the wealthiest earners. Democrats said the Republican bill failed to protect the middle class and shielded the wealthy.
Today's votes leave Congress in the same position as when it began--pressed to agree on a way to extend these 2001 and 2003 tax cuts before they expire in Jan. 2013.
Democrats enraged Republicans this month by announcing their willingness to allow tax cuts and spending provisions to expire if Republicans refuse to raise taxes on the wealthy, potentially inching the country off a "fiscal cliff."