End in Sight for Tax Cut Debate? Senate Passes Key Bill

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The Senate today passed a bill with an overwhelming majority to extend tax cuts for all Americans.

Thirteen Democrats, five Republicans and one independent -- Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont -- voted against the legislation but it garnered bipartisan support for the most part.

The White House today hailed the bill's passage as a "win for American families, American businesses, and our economic recovery."

"I know that not every member of Congress likes every piece of this bill, and it includes some provisions that I oppose," President Obama said in a written statement. "But as a whole, this package will grow our economy, create jobs, and help middle class families across the country."

The bill now moves to the House, where it faces stiff opposition from liberal Democrats who argue that the president caved in too quickly to Republican demands.

This morning, Obama, continuing his campaign to pass the contested tax cut extension, had urged Congress to move quickly on the issue that has caused much rebellion within both parties.

"I'm absolutely convinced that this tax cut plan, while not perfect, will help grow our economy and create jobs in the private sector -- it will help lift up middle-class families who no longer need to worry about a New Year's Day tax hike," Obama said this morning.

Calling the tax cuts a "critical economic package" that's "a win for middle class families," the president for the second time this week pushed lawmakers to put aside their differences.

"We can't afford to let it fall victim to either delay or defeat," he added. "I urge members of Congress to pass these tax cuts as swiftly as possible."

Before the final vote, senators voted on three proposals, all of which failed.

The votes were on a proposal by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to pay for the cost of extending unemployment benefits with spending cuts; a plan by Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., to permanently extend the tax cuts and repeal the estate tax; and a proposal by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to extend the tax cuts only for the bottom 98 percent of taxpayers and extend the Making Work Pay tax credit that was part of the stimulus plan instead of a payroll tax holiday.

Numerous lawmakers had expressed displeasure with the tax bill but ended up supporting it. Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., had spent days railing against the compromise package -- even joining Sanders' protests on the Senate floor last Friday -- but she ultimately voted for it.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., had expressed concerns about a slew of measures that Senate Democrats added to the bill late last week. He ripped them as "unneeded, unnecessary, unwanted sweeteners," specifically an extension of ethanol tax credits, a move he called the "hawkeye handout" in reference to the fact that it was designed to win the votes of Grassley and fellow Iowan Tom Harkin, a Democrat. When all was said and done, though, McCain backed the bill.

Senate to Vote on Tax Cut Bill

Supporters echoed Obama's sentiments, saying the extension was needed to buoy the economy.

"Passing this bill so that the biggest tax hike in the history of the country won't happen is one thing that will bring some certainty -- and maybe more certainty than anything else -- to our economy," Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, said on the floor Tuesday.

House Democrats, who were huddled until late Tuesday night in a closed-caucus meeting, told reporters that the Democratic leadership had not yet come to a conclusion on moving forward with the Senate bill, but that the options are plentiful and a vote is still expected by the end of the week. But before the House Democratic leadership decides how to move forward on the bill, it will wait to see what the Senate accomplishes in Wednesday's vote.

"We're not happy people," Rep. Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., chairwoman of the rules committee, told reporters.

Beyond their opposition to the extension of tax cuts for the wealthy and the estate tax provision of the deal, some House Democrats have expressed their frustrations with the length of the unemployment extension being only 13 months, while many of the other proposals are two-year extensions.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warned this week that if the House votes to make changes to the Senate bill, it could bring the whole bill down.

House minority leader and incoming speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, today expressed full support for the tax package and urged the Democratic leadership to enable their members to vote on the Senate bill.

"I'm for the package. That much I can tell you," Boehner said today. "If I get a chance to vote on it, I'll vote for it."