Payroll Tax Cut Brings Other Benefits

In rare form, Congress approved an extension of the payroll tax cut this week, well ahead of its expiration deadline. Also included were extensions of unemployment insurance benefits and money for doctors who accept Medicare patients. NPR's Tamara Keith reports.

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This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon. A popular payroll tax break will be extended through the end of the year. Lawmakers on Capitol Hill yesterday managed to hurriedly enact the deal. It was a final act before a 10-day recess. Now, the agreement was cut with large bipartisan coalitions in both the House and the Senate without any 11th hour drama this time. Long-term unemployment benefits and a fix to forestall cuts in Medicare payments were also extended. And somewhat miraculously Congress got it done 12 days before those measures were set to expire. That's quite a story and NPR's David Welna has it.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Congress made short work of the hastily forged deal. First, the House passed it by a wide margin, despite 90 Republicans who broke ranks with their leaders and voted no. Then it went over to the Senate. That's where Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who chairs the finance committee and who helped finesse the deal, asked his colleagues to consider some numbers before voting on extending the payroll tax cut.

SENATOR MAX BAUCUS: One hundred sixty million - that's the number of Americans who are helped by this bill. Next number is 1,000. What's that? That's $1,000 each of those Americans are going to be benefited by the passage of this bill.

WELNA: And 60 - that's the number of senators who voted for the deal. And that meant it was going to President Obama's desk for his signature. During a visit yesterday to a Boeing plant in Everett, Washington, Mr. Obama gave his audience credit for getting the payroll tax cut extended.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Because you reminded people what it means to have 40 bucks taken out of your paycheck every week, it got done. This is a big deal. And I want to thank members of Congress for listening to the voices of the American people. It is amazing what happens when Congress focuses on doing the right thing instead of just playing politics. This was a good example, and Congress should take pride in it.

WELNA: House Republican leaders greased the skids for a deal this week by dropping their demand that the $100 billion cost of extending the payroll tax cut be paid for. Congressman Tom Reid, a New York Republican, says Democrats forced that GOP concession.

REPRESENTATIVE TOM REID: It's clear that we're not going to agree to paying for the $100-plus billion we needed and we ended up with this.

WELNA: In the Senate, Republicans opposed the deal by a margin of more than two-to-one. So did one Independent and five Democrats, including Virginia's Mark Warner, who accused his colleagues of being like Wimpy from the Popeye cartoons.

SENATOR MARK WARNER: Now, Wimpy's theory was - remember every cartoon - I'll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.

WELNA: Or in the case of the payroll tax cut, perhaps when the economy gets better. David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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