U.S. Senate passage of President Barack Obama’s $858 billion agreement with Republicans to extend all Bush-era income-tax cuts may occur early tomorrow morning.
Jim Manley, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, said this evening that the vote was “likely” to be set for early in the morning. Reid had said earlier in the day that the vote could come “sometime before midnight” if Republicans agree to act before the time allotted for debate runs out at 12:30 a.m.
Senate passage will send the tax bill to the House, where Democrats -- who threatened last week not to bring it to the floor -- are working on a plan to let Democrats vote on an alternative to estate-tax provisions many of them oppose.
The measure would extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years for all income levels, a Republican demand to which Obama acceded. Most House Democrats want to limit the tax cuts to the first $250,000 of family income. The plan would continue expanded benefits for the long-term jobless through 2011.
Representative Bill Pascrell, a New Jersey Democrat who is leaning against voting for the measure, said opposing the bill will put many Democrats in a difficult spot politically because the bill contains an extension of expanded unemployment benefits and tax cuts for middle-income Americans that Democrats back.
“What if we have nothing?” Pascrell said. Once the Republicans gain control of the House in January, he said, “we are going to come out worse. You are going to see a lot of folks vote for it with political considerations in hand.”
Sense of Urgency
An 83-15 Senate vote yesterday to advance the measure reflects “the urgency that members from all spectrums feel about the middle-income tax cut and the unemployment insurance,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, told reporters today in Washington.
House Democrats will meet privately to discuss plans for considering the measure, including their objection to estate-tax provisions that many consider too generous to the wealthy.
“There are a number of options,” Hoyer said. “We will see what they accept.” Last week, House Democrats voted to not to bring the measure to the floor unless it were changed.
Rules Committee Chairwoman Louise Slaughter of New York said any vote on an alternative to the bill’s estate-tax provision likely would come in the form of a rule rather than an amendment. Such rules typically amount to a symbolic vote that wouldn’t change the substance of the bill.
The tax plan will pass the Senate by a “very substantial margin,” Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky told reporters. “This agreement is not subject to being reopened” for changes, he said. “We have an understanding.”
The legislation would extend all expiring income-tax reductions through 2012, cut payroll taxes by 2 percentage points during 2011 and extend expanded unemployment benefits through 2011. It would let companies write off 100 percent of their capital investments through 2011 and would revive dozens of business tax breaks that expired in 2009.
The estate-tax provision would set a top tax rate of 35 percent, to be applied after an individual exemption of $5 million, through 2012.
There was no estate tax this year, although it was replaced by a capital-gains tax on sales of some inherited assets. Without any change in law, the exemption will be $1 million on Jan. 1 and the top rate will be 55 percent.
‘Very Good Things’
Obama, speaking yesterday at the White House, congratulated the Senate on moving forward and said the “bill does some very good things” for the economy. He urged the House to act quickly. “The nature of compromise” is “sacrificing something that each of us cares about to move forward on what matters to all of us,” the president said.
House Democratic leaders weren’t involved in final negotiations that led to the agreement Obama announced Dec. 6.
Hoyer predicted that more than the 53 Democratic members of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Caucus would vote in favor of the Senate-passed measure once it comes to the House.
Hoyer said lawmakers have “mixed feelings” about the legislation because “there are some very good things in it from the perspective of growing the economy, reaching out to people who are unemployed and giving them some additional help.”
Forty-five Senate Democrats voted to advance the legislation yesterday “because they believe there needs to be some certainty and resolution of this matter going into next year for the economy’s sake,” he said.
Senate Democrats voting no yesterday were Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Russell Feingold of Wisconsin, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Kay Hagan of North Carolina, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan, and Mark Udall of Colorado. Senator Bernard Sanders of Vermont, an independent who caucuses with Democrats and spoke for more than eight hours on the Senate floor Dec. 10 against the bill, also voted no.
Republican Senators John Ensign of Nevada, Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, George Voinovich of Ohio, Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Jeff Sessions of Alabama voted no. Democrats Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley of Oregon didn’t vote.
Any changes made by the House would require another Senate vote, and Senate Republicans who negotiated with the Obama administration said such changes would endanger the agreement.
Business groups including the National Retail Federation, National Association of Manufacturers and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce urged passage.
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