WASHINGTON — Acting with uncommon speed, Congress gave final passage Thursday night of sweeping, bipartisan legislation 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 House passed the measure 277-148 to send the bill to President Barack Obama for signing.
The measure also will cut Social Security taxes for nearly every wage-earner and pump billions of dollars into the still-sluggish economy.
The legislation was the result of a reach across party lines by President Barack 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 an expected late night vote.
NBC/WSJ poll: Nearly 60% approve of tax deal
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, who added later on the House floor he would support "an imperfect bill" in hopes of stimulating job creation.
Like the Senate, much of the House support came from Republicans. Democrats were deeply divided on the bill. Only a few dozen out of 179 Republicans voted against it.
On the bill's final vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., did not vote; House GOP leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, and Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., voted for the bill, and Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-SC, voted against the bill.
The Senate passed the legislation Wednesday, 81-19.
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."
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said the White House "could have gotten a better deal" in secretive talks.
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.
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.
The Senate approval came scarcely more than a week after Obama announced he and Republicans had agreed on the general outlines.
Obama has urged the House to approved the measure unchanged, calling the bill a good compromise with Republicans that would help the economy recover from the worst recession in decades while providing assistance to the unemployed.
But his pleas have failed to satisfy critics in the House who are adamantly opposed to an easing of the estate tax, a concession Obama made to Republicans.
As a result, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the House Democratic leadership have spent recent days trying to satisfy liberals inside the party who want to kill — or at least change — the bill, without running the risk of having taxes rise for millions on Jan. 1.
Republicans have left them little maneuvering room, warning they may walk away from their agreement with Obama if the measure is changed.
Nor was the tax bill the only priority that the White House and congressional leaders worked on as the year — and their control of both houses of Congress — neared an end.
Temporary funding for the federal government expires over the weekend, and Democrats want to enact a pork barrel-stuffed spending measure before conservatives take over the House in January.
Obama still hopes to push ratification of a new arms control treaty with Russia through the Senate, and the White House and party leaders seek legislation to let openly gay servicemen and servicewomen remain in the military.
The estate tax portion of the tax bill, as drafted, would allow $5 million of each spouse's estate to pass to heirs without taxation, with the balance subjected to a 35 percent rate.
Many Democrats favor an alternative to reduce the amount that can be inherited tax free to $3.5 million, and tax the balance at 45 percent.
Supporters said that, if approved, the change would expose an additional 6,600 estates to taxes in 2011, and the government would collect $23 billion over two years as a result.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., one of the critics of the Obama-GOP agreement, said it is important for opponents to have the opportunity to vote on alternatives, even if they have no chance of passing.
"This is the last opportunity we have," he said, noting that Congress will soon adjourn for the year and Republicans will control the House in January.
Other tax cuts, enacted in the past decade, include a more generous child tax credit, breaks for college students, lower taxes on capital gains and dividends and a series of business tax breaks designed to encourage investment. All would be extended if the legislation passes.
The jobless benefits that would be renewed would go to individuals who have been laid off more than 26 weeks but less than 99. Checks average about $300 a week.
Numerous business tax breaks that are due to expire would also be extended, as would a series of provisions relating to energy taxes.
Among them is the federal subsidy for ethanol, supported by many veteran lawmakers from Midwestern states but targeted for cuts or possible extinction by conservatives who will take office in January.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.
Alright, so there will be tax breaks for the Judeo-Capitalists. But the middle class will benefit as well. Let's also not forget that unemployment benefits will be extended as well, so all of you who are out-of-work should breath a sigh of relief - for the moment. At least you can enjoy your Holidays now.
When you're unemployed, you can't worry about tomorrow. All you can do is take care of today. Although I'm working now, and my business has picked up a bit, I've been unemployed, so I know what's like. It's like being on the outside looking in. It doesn't feel good. After awhile, when you get the occasional job interview, you start to feel like you're going there with your hat in your hands, begging for work. It's degrading. However, did anyone ever stop to think that that is exactly how they want you to feel? You better bloody well believe that's EXACTLY how they want you to feel. They want you to come in there desparate, with your spirit broken, ready to do anything they demand, and make any concession to get that job. They are conditioning the working class, and the White working class in particular to take on a slave-mentality. They are training us to jump through their hoops.
Now I'm not telling you to tell them they can take their jobs and shove them. We all have to earn our daily bread, as the Fuhrer often put it. However, we must also not let them enslave us any more than they have. We have to resist their financial tyranny. If you know what they are trying to reduce you to, you can put one over on them. You have to work. That's a fact. I wish it wasn't. I hate having to do sometimes repugnant jobs at the bidding of others, but I too must earn a living. If we understand just exactly how they are trying to condition us, we can resist them. We can just pretend to go along with them so we can support ourselves and our families. Then, when the time is right, we can show them that they have failed. We'll take back our country, our economy, our culture, and our heritage, and make these greedy, corrupt Judeo-Capitalists pay for their crimes against the Aryan Folk. Comrades, that day will come. There's no doubt in my mind about that. The only question is when will it come? The answer is when we're strong enough. When we've educated enough of our Folk. When we hand out those special sunglasses and show everyone that THEY LIVE! Not aliens like in the movie of course, but the real enemy: The greedy and corrupt who sold out their own Folk for material wealth. Joining the ANP is the best step you can take to advance our struggle.
Justice doesn't always use a clock. Often, it uses a calender.