For months, Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell have argued, begged and maneuvered -- unsuccessfully -- to win a lucrative tax break for timber companies, a major source of jobs and political power in the Northwest.
And for just as long, Democrats Murray and Cantwell have repeatedly voted against full repeal of the estate tax, insisting that Republican proposals are an excessive gift to the super rich that will balloon an already enormous deficit. Instead, Murray and Cantwell have advocated more modest reform of a tax that, under current law, hits heirs of estates worth more than $2 million.
Now those unconnected issues have been joined in a make-or-break campaign by Republicans aimed squarely at Murray, Cantwell and a select few senators. In an effort to squeeze out the additional votes they need in the Senate to pass a major cut in the estate tax, Republicans added a timber provision that would exclude from the highest corporate tax rate 60% of timber sales for such companies as Weyerhaeuser and International Paper.
So far, the gambit does not seem to be working.
Murray and Cantwell have both said they are undecided about their vote, which is now expected after the Senate returns from the July 4th break. Their public comments on a bill the House passed June 22 have been underwhelming.
And that's not the only problem Republicans face. In a surprise move, GOP leaders in the Senate pulled the bill this week after failing to smooth over dissent within their ranks between conservatives who want a complete repeal and moderates who worry about the cost.