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Congress: Reaching the finish line

The New York Times: "The Senate on Wednesday approved the $858 billion tax plan negotiated by the White House and Republican leaders, and House Democrats said they expected to pass the bill on Thursday after a final, and seemingly futile, effort to change a provision that benefits wealthy estates."

Roll Call on Speaker Nancy Pelosi appearing to sit on the sidelines of the tax debate: “Pelosi has never been one to shy away from a fight. But she appears to have made the calculation that selling a tax cut plan she doesn’t like and did not have a hand in negotiating won’t pay her any dividends.”

“President Barack Obama’s New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty with Russia snagged 66 votes on a procedural motion to bring it formally to a Senate debate, just one short of the number needed for passage,” the Wall Street Journal notes, adding, “But White House officials noted that Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh (D., Ind.) did not vote on the procedural motion. He could become the decisive vote if the administration can hold Republican supporters together.”

More on the GOP no votes: “Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, John Thune of South Dakota, Christopher Bond of Missouri, Orrin Hatch of Utah, Saxby Chambliss of Georgia, George LeMieux of Florida and Mark Kirk of Illinois announced their opposition to ratification of the treaty during the lame-duck session. Sens. Alexander and Kirk had given favorable signals about the treaty, and White House officials considered Sen. LeMieux a likely vote. Treaties need 67 senators for ratification. ‘I’m one United States senator who plans to support the treaty and its ratification if we continue to debate it thoroughly and air it out, especially if we deal with nuclear modernization in the correct way, but this is not the way to do it. This is not the way to get 67 votes,’ Sen. Alexander said.”

“For the second time this year, the House voted to dismantle the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell’’ policy, giving the Senate a final shot in the waning days of this Congress at changing a law requiring thousands of uniformed gays to hide their sexual identity,” AP writes. “The strong 250-to-175 House vote yesterday propels the issue to the Senate, where supporters of repeal say they have the votes but perhaps not the time to get the bill to the floor.”

Josh Green has a column in the Boston Globe on dismantling the filibuster.

“While Republicans mounted a chorus of opposition to earmarks in spending bills this week, Sen. Jeff Sessions has been quietly blocking a routine tax measure to demand the addition of what is basically an earmark: a new tariff that would benefit a single small business in his state,” Roll Call writes. “The fight over Sessions’ demand for tariffs on sleeping bags from Bangladesh highlights the unintended consequences of the GOP’s newfound hawkishness against earmarks.”

Justice Scalia has accepted an invitation from Rep. Michele Bachmann to address House Republicans, The Hill reports.