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Congress approves payroll tax cut extension

Friday, February 17, 2012

Congress has passed an extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term jobless benefits, handing to President Obama one of his election-year priorities despite widespread concerns about the bill's deficit implications. 

The Senate approved the bill Friday afternoon on a 60-36 vote. The $143 billion package, which also would forestall deep cuts in Medicare reimbursements to doctors, would extend the 2-point payroll tax cut for the rest of 2012. 

The House earlier approved the bill on a 293-132 vote. Obama is expected to sign the bill, after having made the yearlong extension a cornerstone of his September jobs package. 

For some lawmakers, the vote was a no-brainer as they cited the 160 million workers who would benefit from the payroll tax cut. Extending the 2 percentage-point cut in the 6.2 percent Social Security payroll tax would save around $80 monthly for someone earning $50,000 a year. 

But for others, particularly in the Republican Party, the package was a bitter pill. Republicans were bruised in a spat over the extension in late December, when House Republicans initially blocked a two-month extension of the tax cut and jobless coverage, only to retreat quickly under a buzz saw of opposition. With that history and elections looming, Republicans seemed ready to get the fight behind them and change the subject for the rest of this election year. 

"We don't control Washington. Democrats still control Washington -- they control the Senate and they control the White House," said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., the top House negotiators on the measure. "A divided government must still govern." Camp cited stricter job search requirements for people receiving unemployment benefits and other reforms to the program as wins for conservatives. 

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