Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

House, Senate Democrats Diverge on Tactics in Tax Fight ; Democrats: Hensley Offers Substitute Motion

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

House, Senate Democrats Diverge on Tactics in Tax Fight ; Democrats: Hensley Offers Substitute Motion

Article excerpt

As lawmakers grope for a tax package, Democrats split late last week over how much of a fight to put up as Republicans sought to move the process along.

The divide was on vivid display Friday, when House Democrats didn't attempt to stop a Republican tax bill from advancing on procedural grounds, but Senate Democrats used parliamentary maneuvering to temporarily grind the chamber to a halt.

The difference in tactics among Democrats comes as the party is at a moment of maximum political leverage. Fractures among Republicans over tax policy raise the possibility that Democratic support will ultimately be needed to pass legislation that raises about $400 million to balance next year's budget.

On Friday, the House and Senate both voted to allow lawmakers from both chambers to begin negotiating a tax package through a conference committee. In the House, that meant passing a stripped- down tax bill.

Because of parliamentary procedure, two-thirds of lawmakers needed to support a motion to allow debate on the bill. That motion failed on Thursday, largely driven by opposition from conservative Republicans who fear a conference committee will alter tax exemptions for business owners. More than 300,000 filers have claimed the exemptions.

After internal discussions, Republican opponents dropped their objection to allowing the bill to come up for debate Friday. But almost no Democrats objected, either, though most Democrats oppose increases to the sales tax, which likely will be part of any tax deal eventually negotiated. Democrats also allowed debate on the bill to begin without demanding a roll call.

Democrats voted against passage of the bill itself. But unlike the procedural motion, passage required only a majority vote.

The ranking Democrat on the House tax committee, Rep. Tom Sawyer, of Wichita, couldn't guarantee Democrats would gain anything in the conference committee by accommodating Republicans. Asked why Democrats didn't attempt to fight the Republicans on procedural grounds, Sawyer said he agreed with Republicans that the process needed to move forward. …

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