Senate cuts payroll tax, OKs $1 trillion spending bill
House is expected to consider the bill next week
Scott Applewhite / Associated Press Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky waves to staff and visitors after the Senate passed legislation extending a Social Security payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for just two months on Saturday.
President Barack Obama said Saturday that it would be "inexcusable" for Congress not to extend a payroll tax cut for the rest of 2012.
The action set up a Monday vote in the House, where many GOP lawmakers told their leaders they are ready to reject the measure.
With the still-reeling economy serving as a backdrop, the Senate's 89-10 vote belied a tortuous battle between Democrats and Republicans that produced the compromise two-month extension of the expiring tax breaks and jobless benefits and forestalled cuts in doctors' Medicare reimbursements.
Senate passage capped a year of divided government marked by raucous partisan fights that tumbled to the brink of a first-ever U.S. default and three federal shutdowns, only to see eleventh-hour deals emerge. It also put the two sides on track to revisit the payroll tax cut early next year as the fights for control of the White House and Congress heat up.
However, House GOP leaders held a conference call Saturday with rank-and-file lawmakers in which participants said strong anger was expressed about the Senate bill, including its lack of House-approved cuts in last year's health care overhaul law and its failure to erase the reductions in doctors' payments for more than two months.
"You can't have an economic recovery with this," said Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., said of the bill "If the Senate is incapable of doing that, we don't have to accept it."
A House GOP aide said afterward, "Members are overwhelmingly disappointed in the Senate's decision to just 'kick the can down the road' for two months.'
By 67-32, senators gave final congressional approval to a separate $1 trillion bill financing the Pentagon and scores of other federal agencies through next September. That measure avoided a shuttering of government offices that otherwise would have occurred this weekend when temporary financing expired.
The tax legislation delivers tax cuts and jobless benefits that some Republicans opposed. It also represents a rebuff of Obama's original demands for a yearlong payroll tax reduction for 160 million workers that was to be even deeper than this year's cut, extended to employers and paid for by boosting taxes on the highest-earning Americans.
The measure's $33 billion price tag will be paid for instead by raising fees that government-backed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac will charge to back new mortgages or refinancings, beginning next year. When fully phased in, those increases could cost a person with a $200,000 mortgage about $17 a month.
Despite the changes, Obama praised the Senate for passing the bill and prodded the Republican-run House to give it final approval in a vote, which has been expected early next week. He exhorted lawmakers to extend the tax cuts and jobless aid for the entire year, saying it would be "inexcusable" not to.
"It should be a formality, and hopefully it's done with as little drama as possible when they get back in January" from their holiday recess, he said.
The Senate adjourned for the year after its votes Saturday.
While Obama and Democrats used the fight to portray themselves as defenders of beleaguered middle- and lower-income people, Republicans used it to cast themselves as champions of job creation.
Headlining that was a provision they inserted forcing Obama to make a decision within two months on whether to allow construction of the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline, which is to deliver up to 700,000 barrels of oil daily from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The language requires him to issue the needed permit unless he declares the pipeline would not serve the national interest.
Unions have clamored for the thousands of jobs the project could create. Environmentalists have decried the huge amounts of energy it would take to extract the oil. Obama originally announced he was delaying a decision until 2013, which would have allowed him to avoid choosing between two Democratic constituencies before Election Day next November.
When the House inserted the language into its version of the payroll tax bill this month, Obama said he would "reject" the legislation if it retained the Keystone provision. He abandoned that stance this past week as GOP leaders said they would insist on keeping the Keystone language and the final deal jelled.
"The only thing standing between thousands of American workers and the good jobs this project will provide is a presidential decision," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
An administration official said Friday that Obama would almost surely refuse to grant the permit, a stance echoed Saturday by congressional Democrats.
"We feel we're giving them the sleeves off a vest," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y.
Democrats said when Congress revisits the issue of renewing the tax cuts and jobless benefits early next year, they would win the political battle because they would be viewed as protecting peoples' household budgets.
Republicans, though, said they would once again focus the fight on jobs, with some predicting they would try adding provisions to repeal pollution curbs and other government regulations that they say make it harder for companies to hire people.
"There are lots of issues Republicans are interested in as job creators that will still be alive in March," said Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo.
The tax bill would renew this year's 4.2 percent payroll tax through February, preventing the rate from bouncing back to its normal 6.2 percent on New Year's Day. Obama pushed that cut through Congress a year ago as a way to help spark the economy by leaving more money in people's pockets.
A $50,000-a-year wage earner would save about $170 during next year's first two months under the bill the Senate approved Saturday.
Obama had proposed reducing the payroll tax employees pay to 3.1 percent next year. The levy is the chief source of revenue for Social Security.
For two more months, the tax measure would also continue current jobless benefits that provide a maximum 99 weeks of coverage for people who have been out of work the longest. Without any extension, the White House said, 2.5 million people would have lost coverage by the end of February.
The bill also prevents a 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors that might have induced some to stop treating the program's elderly beneficiaries.
The spending legislation carries out budget cuts across government that Republicans won earlier this year and includes GOP provisions blocking energy efficiency and coal dust requirements. Democrats fought off Republican language that would have blocked limits on greenhouse gases and hazardous emissions from utility plants and other sources.
$518 billion for the Pentagon's core budget, a 1 percent boost, excluding military operations overseas.
$115 billion for Pentagon war costs in Iraq and Afghanistan, $43 billion less than 2011 costs.
$7.2 billion to sustain and modernize the U.S. nuclear arsenal.
$11.8 billion for the IRS, an almost 3 percent budget cut.
$39.6 billion for homeland security programs, a 5 percent cut, though border security and immigration enforcement are increased.
$8.4 billion for the Environmental Protection Agency, a 6 percent cut from the president's request.
$4.3 billion for the Indian Health Service, a 6 percent increase.
$30.7 billion for health research, a 1 percent increase.
$14.5 billion for Title I grants to schools, virtually the same as last year.
$11.6 billion for grants to school districts for special needs children.
$4.3 billion for Congress' own budget, a 5 percent cut.
$122.2 billion for veterans programs.
$3.5 billion for low-income heating and utility subsidies, a cut of about 25 percent.
$53.3 billion for foreign aid and the State Department's budget.
$8.1 billion for disaster aid.
Reforms to the Pell Grant program that maintain the maximum award at $5,550 but limit the number of semesters the grants may be received and make income eligibility standards more strict.
The measure also contains many policy provisions, including those to:
Block detainees from Guantanamo Bay from being transferred to the United States.
Block new energy efficiency regulations for light bulbs.
Prohibit the District of Columbia government from funding abortions for poor women.
Ban federal funding of needle exchange programs that help prevent the spread of AIDS among drug users.
Delay new Labor Department regulations limiting coal dust in mines.
Require the government to use the E-verify system to make sure new federal hires are eligible to work in the United States.
Block the EPA or state regulators from requiring clean water permits for the construction of timber roads.
Delay voluntary guidelines on the food industry to limit marketing to children of foods that have high fat, sugar or sodium levels.
Congressional Democrats and the Obama administration succeeded in dumping numerous other GOP policy "riders" from the bill, including attempts to:
Block funding of various steps required to implement the new laws overhauling health care and financial regulation.
Block Environmental Protection Agency rules on greenhouse gases, mountaintop removal mining and hazardous emissions from utility plants, industrial boilers and cement kilns. GOP efforts to block EPA rules on coal ash and large-scale discharges of hot water from utility plants were also blocked.
Eliminate funding for family planning programs in the U.S. and overseas.
Block Obama administration rules easing restrictions on people who visit and send money to relatives in Cuba.
Ban taxpayer subsidies from being used to purchase National Public Radio programming.
Eliminate taxpayer grants to Planned Parenthood.
Require all teen pregnancy prevention grants to go to abstinence-only programs.
Eliminate the option of public financing of presidential campaigns.
Block "net neutrality" rules to prevent Internet service providers from discriminating against those who send content and other services over their networks.
Bar the Consumer Product Safety Commission from creating a public database of product safety concerns.
- IRS officials knew tea party was targeted 5/12/13
- IRS officials knew tea party was targeted 5/10/13
- Obama, GOP senators discuss issues over dinner 4/10/13
- Official links Daily Caller to Menendez hooker scam 3/23/13
- Unions race to beat right-to-work law 3/23/13
- N.D. lawmakers vote to ban abortion 3/22/13
- Are congressmen worth $107,000 a year in retirement? 2/22/13
- Ryan: GOP needs to pick its fights with Obama 1/27/13
- Fox News and Sarah Palin cut ties 1/25/13
- Heritage sees itself as strong arm of the right 1/24/13
- Jindal: GOP must stop being 'stupid party' 1/24/13
- Fox hires Dennis Kucinich as analyst 1/16/13
- Court: Giving cops finger not enough for arrest 1/3/13
- House won't vote on GOP 'fiscal cliff' plan 12/20/12
- Reagan's $3-for-$1 tax deal never happened 12/16/12
- Susan Rice withdraws as secretary of state candidate 12/13/12
- Sen. DeMint resigns to head conservative group 12/6/12