WASHINGTON - The Senate on Saturday blocked efforts to end Bushera tax cuts for the very wealthy while preserving them for people earning up to $1 million.
The votes effectively clear the way for the White House and Congress to iron out a compromise on how to continue the expiring breaks. Bipartisan talks began last week, and it’s widely expected negotiators will agree to a temporary extension of the cuts for every income group, which expire Dec. 31.
Saturday was largely a day for making political points and reiterating long-held views. The Senate took two votes to cut off debate on the middle class and poor cuts, but both failed to get the support of the 60 of 100 senators needed. Most of the opposition came from Republicans.
The House of Representatives voted Thursday to approve the cuts for the middle class and the poor, with most Democrats voting yes and most Republicans voting no.
Democrats expressed their disdain for an acrossthe-board extension, charging that Republicans were giving the rich help they didn’t need.
Most Democrats, and President Barack Obama, favor only an extension of the cuts for individuals earning less than $200,000 and couples making less than $250,000. Republicans, and some moderate Democrats, want all the cuts extended .
If the cuts for the wealthy aren’t extended, the two top rates, now 33 percent and 35 percent, will go back to pre-Bush era levels of 36 percent and 39.6 percent.
“It’s a question of who you’re going to help,” said Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska. “We’re going to help the small-business owners. We’re going to help the middle class.”
Obama said Saturday that the middle-class tax cuts were being held hostage by the Republicans. "I am very disappointed that the Senate is not going to pass legislation that has already passed in the House of Representatives that would make the middleclass tax cuts permanent,” he said. “Those provisions should have passed.”
Republicans countered that the Saturday votes were little more than a political show, and now that they’re done, lawmakers can get on with serious negotiations.“It became apparent the second time we met,” said Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., one of the negotiators, “that actually there wasn’t going to be any bipartisan negotiations to reach a decision until there had been a political catharsis on the Democratic side.”
Saturday, Democrats got to make their points with votes on two measures.
One would have extended the tax cuts, originally enacted in 2001 and 2003, only to the middle class and the poor, and would have continued jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed. Funding for those benefits ran out Wednesday, and about 2 million people are expected to lose their benefits unless Congress acts.
The vote for cutting off extended debate was 53-36, effectively dooming the measure, since 60 votes were needed.
The second measure would have extended the cuts for those earning less than $1 million, a plan Democrats viewed as a potential compromise with Republicans favoring cuts for upper-income earners.
The vote to end that debate was 53-37, also effectively killing the plan.