WASHINGTON — Senate Republicans derailed legislation Saturday to extend expiring tax cuts at all but the highest income levels in a political showdown that paradoxically clears a path for a compromise with the White House on steps to boost the economy.
"We need to get this resolved and I'm confident we can do it," President Obama said shortly after the near party-line votes. The public must have "the peace of mind that their taxes will not go up" on Jan. 1, he added.
Obama has signaled that he will bow to Republican demands for extending tax cuts at all income levels, and his remarks capped a day that lurched between political conflict and talk of compromise on an issue that played a leading role in last month's elections.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., eyeing the 2012 campaign, accused Republicans of siding with "millionaires and billionaires" with their rejection of proposals that would let tax cuts passed during George W. Bush's presidency lapse on seven-figure incomes.
Republicans noted that unemployment rose to 9.8 percent last month and said it made no sense to raise taxes on anyone in a weak economy. Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., jabbed that Democrats were undergoing a "political catharsis" in public after losing control of the House and surrendering several seats in the Senate in the Nov. 2 election.
But the rhetoric subsided quickly after the votes, and Senate leaders in both parties said they hoped political clashes would give way to compromise in the next several days.
Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the GOP leader, said he was relatively confident there would be a deal with the White House "not to raise taxes in the middle of a recession." He said talks were continuing on the length of an extension to be enacted for the cuts that were put in place in 2001 and 2003.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said he hoped for an agreement by the middle or end of this week on legislation that would combine an extension of tax cuts with a renewal of expiring jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.
Officials have said that in addition to tax cuts and unemployment benefits, the White House wants to include renewal of several other tax provisions that are expiring. They include a break for lower- and middle-class wage earners, even if they don't make enough to pay the government, as well as for college students and for companies that hire the unemployed.
Obama later spoke with Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. A White House official said the president told them he was open to a temporary extension of the tax cuts if the Democratic priorities were included in the deal.
Key lawmakers and administration officials have been at work negotiating the terms of a possible deal for several days.
But many congressional Democrats privately have expressed anger at Obama for his willingness to surrender to Republican demands to let the tax cuts remain in place at upper incomes, and numerous officials said no compromise would be possible until they had engineered votes in both the House and Senate.
Any deal would mean a reversal for Obama, who said in the 2008 presidential race and this year that he wanted to let cuts expire above incomes of $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples.
In the Senate, a bill to enact Obama's original position was blocked on a vote of 53-36, seven votes short of the 60 needed to advance. Republicans were unanimous in their opposition, and were joined by Democratic Sens. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, Jim Webb of Virginia and independent Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut.
The second measure would have let taxes rise on incomes over $1 million. It appeared crafted to appeal to senators from states with large high-income populations, as well as cast Republicans as protectors of the rich.
It was blocked on a vote of 53-37, also seven short of the 60 needed. A slightly different lineup of Democrats sided with Republicans, including Sens. Dick Durbin of Illinois, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia and Feingold. Lieberman also opposed it.