By Richard Cowan
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Congressional Democrats and President Barack Obama on Wednesday plotted their legislative priorities for the months leading up to November's elections, showcasing an extension of middle-class tax cuts as well as with measures to keep government agencies functioning beyond September 30.
Later this month, the Democratic-led Senate is expected to stage a vote on continuing tax cuts for families earning up to $250,000 - an election-year initiative that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will not go along with.
Instead, Republicans want to renew all Bush-era tax cuts that are set to expire on December 31, including those for families earning above $250,000, despite Obama's opposition. The House is expected to vote this month on full renewal.
Both of these tax initiatives are aimed at more at energizing Democratic and Republican voters than actually enacting legislation before November's election as few think the House and Senate are capable of agreeing on much of anything.
A senior Senate Democratic aide said that the Democrats' tax bill this month likely will also include the extension of some additional middle-class tax breaks, such as a child tax credit and another for college tuition.
Senator Richard Durbin, the second-ranking Democrat in the Senate, told reporters that few, "if any, Democratic senators," will back the extension of all Bush-era tax cuts. Some have said they favor a extending the cut beyond the $250,000 earning level - which they say no longer defines the middle class in some expensive areas of the country - to those earning up to $1 million.
But Obama spokesman Jay Carney predicted "overwhelming Democratic support" for letting income tax breaks expire for those making more than $250,000.
Durbin said that during a nearly hour-long meeting with Obama at the White House Wednesday, Democrats also discussed strategy for passing a stop-gap spending bill to keep the government operating beyond September 30, when the current fiscal year ends.
Durbin said a stand-alone bill to fund military programs in the new fiscal year also could be passed.
Other measures to be brought onto the Senate floor, Durbin said, are a long-stalled bill to improve cybersecurity and another to make campaign funding more transparent by large political contributors known as "super PACs."
Durbin dashed hopes that an immigration reform bill that he has championed might be debated this summer. Known as the "DREAM Act," the Democratic legislation would allow certain children of illegal immigrants to stay in the United States to pursue college education and jobs and put them on a path to citizenship.
In June, Obama provided a temporary reprieve for some of these immigrants since Republicans have blocked legislation that would be more durable.
"Lamar Smith has made clear he won't take up any immigration bills so in the limited time we have (this year), let's focus on what needs to be done," Durbin said, referring to the Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which is the gatekeeper of immigration legislation in the House of Representatives.
If Democrats and Republicans cannot agree on what to do about the expiring tax cuts enacted by former President George W. Bush in 2001 and 2003, which hit all income levels, lawmakers will have try to hash out a deal following the November 6 presidential and congressional elections.
(Additional reporting by Alistair Bull; Editing by Fred Barbash and Jackie Frank)