Congress Passes Extension Of Payroll Tax Cut

Both houses of Congress approved an extension of President Obama's signature payroll tax cut through the end of the year, two weeks before the actual deadline.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

I'm Robert Siegel.

And extension of a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the so-called doc fix is headed to President Obama's desk. Both the House and Senate approved a compromised measure today with strong bipartisan support. It all happened two weeks before the deadline with surprisingly little drama. NPR congressional reporter Tamara Keith tries to explain why.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: This could have been a huge fight. It was back in December when lawmakers could only agree on a two-month extension, and even that involved a huge will they or won't they blow up with the House initially defeating it. Almost from the moment that ended, President Obama implored Congress to please pass the full-year extension.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: They need to do it now without drama and without delay. No ideological sideshows to gum up the works, no self-inflicted wounds.

KEITH: But here's the thing: Last year, when the president called on Congress to do something, that was almost a sure sign it wouldn't happen. There was no reason to believe this time would be any different, but a funny thing happened on the way to what was supposed to be a bitterly divided partisan slug fest.

SENATOR CHUCK SCHUMER: It is a miracle.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KEITH: That's New York Democrat Senator Chuck Schumer, describing what happened today.

SCHUMER: It is very hard these days to pass legislation through the Senate and through the House, so it's a miracle, and it's a good miracle.

KEITH: It's especially hard to pass bills in the Senate because Republicans have made a habit of filibustering bills they oppose. But today, on this bill, there was no filibuster. Schumer says he hopes this is a turning point.

SCHUMER: Every single person, all the 400, 535 senators and congressmen can each find several things to beef about, but maybe we're passed the old days, if I don't get it all my way, I'm going to block it from happening. That's what hopefully this is a sign of.

KEITH: From the GOP perspective, Arizona Senator John McCain has a slightly different, perhaps more realistic analysis.

SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN: Because December was a debacle, OK? We, you know, we're down but we're not stupid.

KEITH: The December fight was widely viewed as a victory for President Obama, and a no-win situation for Republicans. McCain voted no today, in part because the $100 billion payroll tax extension will be added to the deficit. Still, walking out of the Senate chamber, he just seemed glad it was over.

MCCAIN: It's a problem for the country, just add another 100 billion. But we did not want to repeat the debacle of December.

KEITH: For the average American family, this measure means about $80 extra each month. Extended unemployment benefits will continue through the rest of the year, though reduced. And Medicare reimbursements won't drop. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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