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Senate GOP Leaders Not Releasing Hostages Despite Ransom

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WASHINGTON -- Senate Republican leaders are not yet willing to release all of their legislative hostages, they said Tuesday, despite President Obama's agreement to pay ransom in the form of an extension of tax breaks for the wealthy.

Senate Republicans had earlier vowed that all 42 members of their conference would filibuster any bill that did not extend tax cuts for the wealthy or fund the government using a mechanism known as a continuing resolution. While Republicans are releasing the unemployment reauthorization that had been tied up in the Capitol basement -- along with some tax cuts and credits for working people -- key priorities aren't being let go.

The deal that has been reached isn't enough to lift the threat to shut down legislative activity, said Sen. Jon Kyl, the number-two Republican. "The agreement has been reached, the question of defining -- specifically writing the provisions is going to take some time," he said, adding that he didn't believe there would be time left after to deal with the New START Treaty, repeal of the military's Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy or the DREAM Act, which would create a pathway to citizenship for the children of undocumented workers.

"This and the funding of the government through continuing resolution are the two items that we said we should complete first," he said. "Then at least the 42 senators would be of a mind that if Leader Reid wants to bring something else up, then obviously we can consider it."

Senate Democratic leadership bristled at the continuation of the hostage crisis despite the agreement. "Each time we fight for the DREAM Act, Republicans make a new excuse for why they won't support it. If it's not one thing, it's another. Senator Reid believes our armed forces can't wait any longer and our economy can't afford to lose these kids' talents," said a Democratic leadership aide.

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.), the party's number three, also said that the agreement was insufficient to satisfy the earlier demands. We need to settle the tax question and fund the government before we deal with these extraneous matters that are less important," Alexander said.

"It's hard for me to see how to do that," he said when HuffPost asked if the Senate still had time to deal with the DREAM Act or Don't Ask, Don't Tell. "Senator Reid is apparently going to bring those up tomorrow. And what we've said is let's fund the government and settle the tax question before we move on any of that. So if those all fail, then we can move on to funding the government, dealing with taxes and dealing with START, possibly before Christmas."

Asked whether the agreement freed up the Senate to deal with other issues, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's office forwarded HuffPost a copy of the earlier letter containing the hostage threat.

President Obama on Tuesday put the tax-cut agreement in stark terms, echoing Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who called the extension "ransom."

"I've said before that I felt that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage to the high-end tax cuts," Obama said. "I think it's tempting not to negotiate with hostage takers, unless the hostage gets harmed. Then people will question the wisdom of that strategy. In this case, the hostage was the American people, and I was not willing to see them get harmed."

The reluctance to walk while the Senate negotiators finish chewing their tax-cut gum extends to moderate members of the Republican Party, too. "I think that's what's important, first and foremost, is getting the tax issue done and then look at the rest of the agenda, including the defense authorization bill," Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) said, referring to the underlying bill that includes repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

And if Republicans don't like what they see coming to the floor, they could drag out the tax-cut negotiations, said Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). "If they try to jam through an earmark and special-interest-laden bill, the discussions [on taxes] will be somewhat lengthened," McCain said.

Ultimately, however, Democrats control the floor schedule, if not Republican votes. A vote on the DREAM Act is still scheduled for Wednesday and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) said he was "hopeful" Reid would file cloture on the defense bill the same day, meaning a vote could come as early as Friday. "We've got the time," said Levin. "Just take it."