WASHINGTON -- Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a close ally of President Obama, hinted Congress may be close to a deal on extending Bush-era tax cuts, telling reporters that members are warming up to the president's compromise.
"I think that members are more open today as they read the analyses of this package," said Durbin at the Capitol Wednesday.
Durbin noted Obama's tax package has received the endorsements of prominent progressives including the Center for American Progress's John Podesta and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' Bob Greenstein, arguing their support has helped shift the conversation in the president's favor.
"These are people that progressives respect and go to, and they've said positive things. So I think there's more openness," said Durbin of lawmakers' attitudes on the tax deal negotiated by the White House and Senate Republicans.
A reporter asked Durbin if he describes his own position on the tax deal as increasingly receptive.
"I do," Durbin said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid meanwhile, said he hasn't budged on the issue.
"I'm right where I was yesterday," Reid told reporters after Wednesday's Senate Democratic Caucus meeting. "I've gotten a lot of input from the caucus."
Reid is one of a number of Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to criticize the plan, citing the estate tax provision as a top concern. The current agreement holds that on Jan. 1 the estate tax will jump to 35% for anyone with an income above $5 million. Democrats were pushing for a measure that would tax all inheritances above $3.5 million at a rate of 45%.
"There are some parts in this that I just loathe, like the estate tax," Durbin admitted. "Having said that though, I understand the predicament we're in: Failing to pass tax cuts -- in this weak economy -- for middle class individuals could be devastating."
The president's deal would extend the Bush tax cuts for the highest-earning Americans for two years in return for GOP cooperation on the reauthorization of unemployment benefits, which would be extended for just 13 months. That compromise angered many Democrats who were troubled not only by the substance of the bill, but also by the negotiation process, which included only Senate Republicans and White House officials.
Durbin defended the president from those criticisms, telling reporters that members of Congress were the ones who encouraged the White House to take the lead on negotiations in the first place.
"There was a point at which the leaders in Congress said, 'Now it's yours.' And then [the White House] brought back something, and now members of Congress are saying, 'Wait a minute! Why'd you do this without us?'"
Top Senate Republican Jon Kyl has said that the deal has received a "general positive reaction" from Senate Republicans, and told reporters at the Capitol this afternoon that a proposal could come to the Senate floor as early as Thursday.