House Eyes Tuesday Vote on Two Economic Bills

In a last minute decision, House Republicans have added an eleventh-hour vote on two economic bills to the Tuesday agenda. The first bill would provide billions in disaster relief for Hurricane Sandy victims and the second will extend current tax rates for middle class Americans.

One of these votes is expected to be a close call as it deals with tax policy, but both are viewed as necessary by Republican leaders who want to show their party’s concern over fiscal responsibility during election season.

The plan is complicated. It would allow tax rates to remain the same for middle-class earners, but would extend all of the Bush-era tax cuts on income above $250,000 – allowing rates to return to Clinton-era levels at midnight. Negotiations are still ongoing behind closed doors over what spending cuts will be included in either package, but they’re likely to be minimal.

What’s more, the new Senate would then take up a completely separate vote on tax cuts for income below $250,000 before adjourning for the year and leaving everything else until next year. Speaker John Boehner is not expected to bring legislation funding the government past mid-January and risk a government shutdown, but many other lawmakers on both sides aren’t keen on that plan either.

Passing this final tax vote will allow the House to clear the deck on fiscal matters before it leaves for Christmas, according to aides on Capitol Hill. It’s not clear if these votes will happen Tuesday night or later in the week. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell are expected to confer about the plan around lunchtime today.

A vote on an extenders package could be a close call for House Republicans, because it means extending current policies that expire at midnight tonight. The party has been successful in pressuring their members to extend tax cuts in recent votes, but since some of those cuts are permanent and others are not, members have been bombarded by tax lobbyists on both sides asking them to vote for specific provisions.

The more controversial vote is the Hurricane Sandy bill, which is expected to pass but faces opposition from fiscal conservatives who believe it’s more pork than actual disaster relief for victims of the storm.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor told Republicans at a closed door meeting in the Capitol basement Monday night that it’s likely they will vote on both packages Tuesday, according to a leadership aide.

Just 19 House Republicans voted for legislation passed by the Senate that would have provided $60 billion of Sandy relief earlier this month, but Cantor said that since then there have been several bills passed by the House to provide relief for specific groups hit by the storm. The legislation listed on the schedule for this week would be a single package containing all of those bills.