But Democrats are already eyeing the 2012 elections and eager to engineer a showdown over tax cuts in an attempt to depict Republicans as guardians of the rich.
"All those people out there in the tea party that are angry about the economics of Washington, they really need to look at this," Sen. Claire McCaskill., D-Mo., said Friday as Democrats took turns pummeling Republicans.
"They need to pull back the curtain and realize that you've got a Republican Party that's not worried about the people in the tea party," said McCaskill, who will be on the ballot next year. "They're worried about people that can't decide which home to go to over the Christmas holidays."Republicans dismissed the attacks as the last gasp of a Democratic Party that lost its majority in the House in midterm elections, surrendered several seats in the Senate and will be forced to share power beginning in January.
"All of this finger-pointing is doing nothing to create jobs," said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. "It's a total waste of time."
Noting that unemployment had risen to 9.8 percent, he added: "Democrats are responding with a vote to slam job creators with a massive tax increase. Millions of out-of-work Americans don't want show-votes or finger-pointing contests. They want jobs."
The Senate agenda featured a pair of votes Saturday, one on a proposal to extend all expiring tax cuts on individuals with incomes of less than $200,000 a year and married couples making less than $250,000; the other to renew them for all tax filers with incomes of less than $1 million.
Republicans want to head off tax increases at all income levels, and neither Democratic proposal was likely to get the 60 votes needed to advance.
Democrats said that wasn't the point. "This is going to be a winning argument, not just for this week, but for the next two years," said Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., looking ahead to 2012.
Political maneuvering aside, the events were seen as a prelude to completing negotiations on a compromise that could avert a Jan. 1 tax increase at all levels.
President Barack Obama has already signaled he is prepared to sign a compromise along those lines, and the White House has been negotiating privately with Republicans on a broader bill that would include Democratic priorities as well.
Among them are an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and extension of additional expiring tax breaks for lower- and middle-income workers even if they don't make enough to owe the IRS money. College students would also benefit under the White House's proposals, as would companies that hire the unemployed.
Also part of the discussions is a possible increase in the federal debt limit, which allows the government to continue to borrow to meet its financial obligations.
In the weekly White House radio and Internet address, Vice President Joe Biden, skipped lightly over Obama's willingness to negotiate with the GOP on the Bush-era tax breaks.
"We've got to extend the tax cuts for the middle class that are set to expire at the end of the month," he said. "If we don't, millions of middle-class families will see a big bite out of their paychecks starting January 1. And that's the last thing we should let happen."
"And the second thing we've got to do is extend unemployment insurance for Americans who have lost their jobs in a tough economy," Biden said.
Delivering the Republican address, Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois, who was sworn into office this week, said voters in the midterm elections demonstrated their distaste for any tax increases.
"The current leaders of Congress should not move forward with plans that were just rejected by the American people," he said. "These leaders should not raise taxes and risk another recession. Instead, Congress should reduce spending and prevent another tax hike on American taxpayers."