Senator Dick Durbin (D-Ill), who is tasked with counting votes in the Senate, acknowledged the obvious on Sunday: The Democratic party doesn't have the 60 members needed to end a filibuster on extending the Bush tax cuts just for those making under $250,000.
But in a telling hint at party strategy, the Illinois Democrat suggested that leadership would get moderate Democrats and a Republican or two to support President Obama's plan only with a high-drama, high-stakes, 11th-hour standoff.
Speaking to CNN's Candy Crowley on "State of the Union," Durbin said that the specter of the Bush tax cuts expiring across the board (as they are scheduled to do under law) would compel at least 60 senators to back an extension just for those making under $250,000. The plan rests heavily on a bit of political brinkmanship on the part of the Democrats. If the deadline isn't met, after all, tax rates go up for everyone (with Obama, undoubtedly, getting the blame). But Durbin hinted strongly that this was the one vehicle the party had left for securing the necessary votes.
DURBIN: Candy, I can count and I know you can, too. We have 59 Democrats, and not a single Republican in the Senate supports our position that we need to do something that's responsible to reduce our deficit, but also to help middle-income families, bring us out of this recession. Look at the two major issues.
CROWLEY: Why will that be different after the [November] election?
DURBIN: Well, I hope it will be different. Occasionally one Republican will break ranks and help us. Let me give an example. Tomorrow, President Obama is going to sign the small business credit bill to help create jobs in small businesses all across America.
We had one Republican after a month, a solid month of filibustering. George Voinovich of Ohio, retiring Republican, said, I'm tired of the game-playing here, I'm going to vote with the Democrats to help small businesses. That's what it took, a whole month.
And now we have a food safety bill I've been working on for over a year. Nineteen Democrats and Republicans support it. One Republican, Tom Coburn, a medical doctor from Oklahoma, has stopped the food safety bill. Another filibuster.
You know, what it gets down to is we can count, and we know we don't have 60 votes for our tax position. We want to basically say after the election when we still face a deadline, by the end of the year we'll take up all of these tax issues. That to me is the only realistic way to address it.
CROWLEY: You don't have all of the Democratic votes in the Senate either, do you?
DURBIN: Well, here's what I think, Some Democrats would say, well, perhaps we would do it a little bit differently. But if that position doesn't prevail, and I don't think it will, then the ultimate choice is going to be whether or not we have the $250,000 income threshold for these tax cuts. And I think at that time we'll have the support of all the Democrats as well as some Republicans.