WASHINGTON -- President Obama claims it's still a "wrestling match," but with Senate Republicans in uniform opposition, his plan to raise taxes on wealthier people while preserving cuts for everyone else appears increasingly likely to founder before Election Day.
Republicans and Democrats are using the looming expiration of Bush-era tax cuts as a defining battle in elections to determine control of Congress that are just seven weeks away.
Gridlock appears to be an increasingly likely result in the Senate. Republicans said they had the votes to block legislation to extend the middle-class tax relief if Democrats follow through on their plan to deny tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans.
The issue is more likely to be decided in a postelection session.
Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the GOP whip, said Monday that his party was united in opposing Obama's proposed tax hike on the wealthy.
"Just before the recess we had a meeting and we discussed this, and every Republican was absolutely supportive of the idea that there shouldn't be any increases in taxes," Kyl said.
Congressional analysts say renewing the tax cuts for everyone would cost the government $4 trillion over the next decade. With polls showing a broad public anger over spiraling federal deficits, Obama wants to exclude individuals earning over $200,000 and couples making over $250,000 -- who account for $700 billion of that total. They represent about 3 percent of taxpayers, according to the Tax Policy Center, a Washington think tank.
"Only in Washington could someone propose a tax hike as an antidote to a recession," said GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky.
McConnell has said a bill extending the tax cuts for only low- and middle-income earners cannot pass the Senate, but he declined to reiterate that threat Monday. Republicans control 41 seats, the minimum needed for a successful bill-killing filibuster, though McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to say whether all 41 Republicans would support a filibuster.
Some Democrats, like Sens. Kent Conrad of North Dakota, Jim Webb of Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, are siding with Republicans against raising taxes on anyone during a fragile economic recovery.