Senate Approves Extension Of Tax Cuts The Senate has passed the president's tax deal as expected, and now the question is: What about the House? Liberal Democrats, who hate the bill's tax breaks for the wealthy, are figuring out if they can control themselves -- an IF the size of Texas -- and insist on only one amendment on the estate tax. Meanwhile, Republicans, unhappy about the $900 billion hole in the budget, are watching their right flanks. Over in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell observes that the tax deal "is not subject to being reopened."
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Senate Approves Extension Of Tax Cuts

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Senate Approves Extension Of Tax Cuts

Senate Approves Extension Of Tax Cuts

Senate Approves Extension Of Tax Cuts

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The Senate has passed the president's tax deal as expected, and now the question is: What about the House? Liberal Democrats, who hate the bill's tax breaks for the wealthy, are figuring out if they can control themselves — an IF the size of Texas — and insist on only one amendment on the estate tax. Meanwhile, Republicans, unhappy about the $900 billion hole in the budget, are watching their right flanks. Over in the Senate, Republican leader Mitch McConnell observes that the tax deal "is not subject to being reopened."

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

It's now up to the House. The bill extending the Bush-era tax cuts passed the Senate today by an overwhelming majority, 81-19. That sends it to the House of Representatives with real political momentum.

As NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports, the tax package may now sail through the House and into law. Then again, it may not.

ANDREA SEABROOK: House Democrats have never liked this package. A deal with the devil, some called it, when President Obama negotiated the agreement with Republican senators. But when it became clear that the bill would pass the Senate in such a broad, bipartisan way, Republican leader Mitch McConnell issued this warning: The agreement is not subject to being reopened, he said.

Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Minority Leader): I hope that our friends in the House will understand that that's the best way to go forward, simply pass the Senate bill, get it down to a president who supports the understanding.

SEABROOK: Not likely, said House Democrat Mel Watt of North Carolina.

Representative MEL WATT (Democrat, North Carolina): I'd have a lot of trouble voting for it without at least making substantial efforts to amend it.

SEABROOK: The bill extends the Bush tax cuts for middle and lower-income Americans and for wealthier people. It also sets the estate tax to Republicans' liking, cuts payroll taxes for wage earners and extends unemployment benefits. Not all of it is terrible, said Watt today.

Rep. WATT: There are good things in the proposal. There are bad things in the proposal.

SEABROOK: One thing most Democrats hate in the bill is the relatively low estate tax rate. The plan would allow wealthy couples to pass $10 million to their heirs, tax free. Some Democrats are mounting a possible attack on the bill in the form of an amendment to change the estate tax provision and send it all back to the Senate.

Another problem, says Maryland Democrat Elijah Cummings, is how long the bill lasts - two years, pushing the fight over tax rates and deficits smack into the middle of a presidential campaign.

Representative ELIJAH CUMMINGS (Democrat, Maryland): And I got to tell you, it's hard for me to believe in an election year that one can effectively argue allowing taxes to go up.

SEABROOK: Even some fiscally conservative Blue Dog Democrats are angry that the bill includes tax breaks for the wealthy, blowing another hole in the federal budget and making the deficit worse.

So Democrats aren't likely to just pass the Senate bill without a vigorous debate at the very least, and some are pushing to change it.

That's why New Jersey Republican Scott Garrett says he doesn't even know what's coming, though he's watching with a tiny bit of amusement.

Representative SCOTT GARRETT (Republican, New Jersey) I don't know what the bill is, and apparently, just as for the last couple years, neither do the Democrats.

SEABROOK: Zing. Seriously, though, in this game of political poker, Republicans hold all the aces. If Democrats are angry enough to change the bill and blow up the deal President Obama made with Republicans, well then, this Congress would end without a bill, and everyone's taxes would go up on January 1st.

So in these last days of Democrats' control, they're weighing their options very carefully, because if they don't take this deal now, they may get something far harder to swallow next year under the new Republican majority.

Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.

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