Tax-cut package clears procedural hurdle in Senate

Dec. 6 (Bloomberg) -- Former U.S. Treasury Secretary Paul O'Neill speaks with Bloomberg's Margaret Brennan on Dec. 3 about working with former President George W. Bush on tax policies and the decision to invade Iraq. O'Neill disputes the claim made in Bush's book "Decision Points" that he never openly disagreed with planned tax cuts. (Source: Bloomberg)
By Shailagh Murray and Lori Montgomery
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, December 14, 2010; 1:46 AM

Republicans and Democrats joined forces in the Senate on Monday to deliver the most significant bipartisan vote since President Obama took office, advancing a plan to extend tax cuts for virtually every American and to boost the economic recovery.

The procedural vote could be followed by final Senate passage as early as Tuesday evening. If the bill sails through the Senate, as expected, the last hurdle would be the House, where liberal Democrats remain strongly opposed to continuing President George W. Bush's tax breaks for upper-income households as well as the generous terms of a revived estate tax.

In brief remarks Monday, Obama acknowledged the dismay of these lawmakers but urged them to consider the consequences of legislative inaction.

"I recognize that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are unhappy with certain parts of the package, and I understand those concerns. I share some of them," Obama said. "But that's the nature of compromise - sacrificing something that each of us cares about to move forward on what matters to all of us."

The 83-to-15 vote Monday represents a significant milestone for the Senate as a highly contentious legislative session comes to a close. Congress has passed a trove of significant measures over the past two years, but most were approved on party-line votes that infuriated Republicans and alienated independent voters.

Obama entered uncharted political territory two weeks ago when he opened negotiations with GOP leaders about the fate of the tax cuts, which were enacted in 2001 under Bush and are set to expire on New Year's Eve.

The two sides produced a deal that attracted broad support and gave each party a major victory, with Republicans securing a two-year extension of the Bush cuts, even for the wealthiest households, while Democrats won a major new jolt of economic stimulus, including a continuation of emergency benefits for jobless workers through next year.

In recent days, House Democratic leaders have conceded that the measure's chances are improving as the clock ticks down on the lame-duck session, and lawmakers face the prospect of income taxes rising across the board Jan. 1.

"Action is necessary, and compromise was inevitable," House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a speech Monday morning at the National Press Club.

And even in the Senate, when the roll was called Monday, many Democrats who previously railed against extending all the Bush tax breaks were recorded as "ayes."

"My goal is to ensure that middle-class families get actual tax relief," said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), who had favored allowing the Bush breaks to lapse on annual household income of more than $1 million. Menendez pointed to breaks for transit commuters and solar energy use that were included in the legislation as inducements that helped seal his support.

Voters also appear to like the Obama-GOP compromise. About seven in 10 Americans back the tax deal, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll.

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