* Bush-era cuts expire at year end with no action
* Democrats seek jobless benefit extension
* Leaders take temperature after election
By Kim Dixon and Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A deal on a temporary
extension of the Bush-era tax rates could emerge that would
also renew unemployment benefits for 2 million Americans about
to lose them, top lawmakers said Tuesday.
A senior Republican in the House said he
could back extending jobless benefits, favored by Democrats
like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, in exchange for an extension
of all Bush-era tax cuts, including for the wealthiest groups.
"What we're going to do is sit down and talk with Mrs.
Pelosi," Representative Pete Sessions, a Republican in
leadership, told Reuters as he left a meeting of House
Republicans. "I see nothing wrong with her winning as long as
the American people do."
Jobless benefits for 800,000 Americans will expire on Nov.
30 if Congress fails to act. Two million in total would lose
benefits by the end of December.
The benefits have been renewed several times as the country
struggles with near 10 percent unemployment, but Republicans
have sought to limit them.
Democrats are politically weakened following the Republican
takeover of the House of Representatives and gains in the
Senate in the Nov. 2 congressional elections.
President Barack Obama has asked congressional leaders to
meet with him Thursday to discuss tax cuts. Legislation is
not expected to come up for a vote until after next week's
Thanksgiving break at the earliest.
A top Democrat also suggested a deal on taxes and
unemployment benefits could be linked.
"It really strikes me as hard to explain why we would give
charity to the richest people in America with additional tax
cuts of $100,000 a year and deny the basic necessities of life
to people who are out of work through no fault of their own,"
said Richard Durbin, the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate.
TAKING THE TEMPERATURE
Top lawmakers meet with rank-and-file members Tuesday
when leaders for the first time will take the temperature on
how to extend Bush-era tax cuts after the congressional
Bush-era tax cuts for all individuals expire at year end
and lawmakers have only a few weeks to make a deal with
Republicans on extending them.
The parties agree on an extension of lower rates for
individuals earning less than $200,000 but disagree whether to
extend those rates for the highest earners. Republicans say the
economy cannot stomach any higher taxes, while Democrats say
the nation cannot afford the cost of lower rates for the
Obama signaled willingness to compromise with Republicans
following their election gains but says he wants to make the
lower tax rates permanent for the middle class and signaled
any extension for the wealthy must be temporary.
But Democrats, who now control both houses of Congress,
were unable to broker a deal before the election, and may now
have to settle for a temporary extension of all the rates to
prevent taxes rising on Jan. 1 on nearly every American.
Still, the chances that lawmakers will not get in line to
make a deal remain, especially with an empowered Republican
conservative Tea Party movement.
The leader of the Republicans' Tea Party Caucus in the
House rejected the idea of linking a tax cut extension to an
extension of unemployment benefits.
"I don't think that the American people should have to pay
for that by having to have some new massive spending tied to
it," Representative Michele Bachmann said in an interview with
ABC's "Good Morning America." "If that's the case, I don't
think you are going to see the Republicans go along with it."
(Additional reporting by Donna Smith and Thomas Ferraro;
Editing by Peter Cooney)
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