Congress approves tax cut compromise
| December 17, 2010 8:00 PM
WASHINGTON - Acting with uncommon speed, Congress sent President Barack Obama sweeping, bipartisan legislation late Thursday night to avoid a Jan. 1 spike in income taxes for millions and renew jobless benefits for victims of the worst recession in 80 years.
The measure also will cut Social Security taxes for nearly every wage-earner and pump billions of dollars into the still-sluggish economy.
The 277-148 vote came the day after the Senate cleared the bill, 81-19.
The legislation was the result of a reach across party lines between Obama and top Republicans in Congress - stubborn adversaries during two years of political combat that ended when the GOP emerged the undisputed winner in midterm elections on Nov. 2.
Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite, R-Fla., called it "a bipartisan moment of clarity" as the House moved toward a vote.
After forcing a delay in the House early in the day, Democratic critics settled for a separate vote in their bid to toughen an estate tax provision they attacked as a giveaway to the very rich. They were defeated, 233-194, with one vote of "present."
"The president will be able to sign it as soon as he likes," said Rep. Rob Andrews of New Jersey as the events unfolded in the final days of a tumultuous two-year Congress.
In a statement released shortly after the vote, Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said the bill was "good for growth, good for jobs, good for working and middle-class families, and good for businesses looking to invest and expand their work force."
House Republicans who will move into powerful posts when the GOP takes control in January urged passage of the bill.
Rep. Eric Cantor of Virginia, in line to become majority leader, said the measure, while not perfect, marked a "first step" toward economic recovery.
Largely marginalized in the negotiations leading to the bill, Democrats emphasized their unhappiness with Obama.
"We stand today with only one choice: Pay the ransom now or pay more ransom later," said Rep. Brad Sherman of California. "This is not a place Democrats want to be. But, ultimately, it is better to pay the ransom today than to watch the president pay even more, and I think he'd be willing to pay a bit more next month."
Policy differences aside, the legislation stood on the brink of enactment an astonishingly quick 10 days after the president announced at the White House he had agreed on a framework with Republicans.
With the economy performing poorly and a year-end tax increase looming, there were none of the customary congressional hearings that normally precede debate on major legislation, and few if any complaints that lawmakers had not had enough time to review the legislation.
Passage was backed by 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans. Opposed were 112 Democrats and 36 Republicans, many of whom wanted to include spending cuts to offset the $56 billion cost of the unemployment benefits.
After struggling with rank and file discontent, the Democratic leadership splintered at the end. Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California did not vote, while Majority Leader Steny Hoyer of Maryland supported the measure. Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, outgoing chairman of the Democratic campaign committee, opposed it after assuming a prominent role in pushing for the estate tax increase.
The bill provides a two-year extension of tax cuts enacted when George W. Bush was president, avoiding an increase at all income levels that would otherwise occur on New Year's Day.
It would also renew an expiring program of benefits for the long-term unemployed, and enact a reduction in Social Security taxes for 2011 that would amount to $1,000 for an individual earning $50,000 a year.
The bill's cost, $858 billion over two years, would be tacked on to the federal deficit, a sore spot with deficit hawks in both parties.