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House passes bipartisan tax cut deal, first of Obama administration

Though many House Democrats balked at extending Bush-era tax cuts, House lawmakers late Thursday approved the $858 billion tax cut deal intact, with 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans.

By Staff writer / December 17, 2010

The House of Representatives worked late into Thursday night, after the first significant snowfall of the season, to pass the $858 billion package of renewed tax cuts and more unemployment benefits in Washington.

Hyungwon Kang/Reuters

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Legislation that extends Bush-era tax cuts until 2012, ensures benefits for the unemployed for another 13 months, cuts what workers pay into Social Security by nearly a third for a year, and reins in taxes for business, investors, and heirs to estates – a.k.a. the Obama-Republican tax-cut compromise – cleared its last congressional hurdle Thursday and heads to the president's desk on Friday.

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In addition to its practical implications for millions of American taxpayers, the bill marks the advent of a new dialogue between the White House and Republicans on Capitol Hill that, for the first time in the Obama presidency, left Democrats on the sidelines – a harsh new political reality for the outgoing House majority.

Though many liberal House Democrats balked – loudly and fervently – at legislation that would extend tax policy from the Bush years, in the end, House lawmakers late Thursday approved the $858 billion deal intact and on a rare bipartisan vote of 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans.

Indeed, passing the deal without changes represents a victory for Bush-era tax policy, which favored cutting taxes, rather than government spending, as the primary engine of growth. Democrats had campaigned in 2006, 2008, and 2010 to end tax breaks for the wealthiest Americans, on grounds the country could no longer afford them. House Republicans pledge to try to make deeper cuts in government in the next Congress, when they face a tough vote to raise the $14.3 trillion national debt limit as early as this spring.

Democrats did win some important concessions, however. They include billions in new government spending, paid for with borrowed money. Moreover, the deadlines in this tax package set up a new round of tax debates in the heart of a presidential campaign in 2012.

Still, to preside over extending the Bush tax cuts was a bitter stroke for House Democrats, in their last hours in the majority. An unexpected revision of the estate tax to exempt families inheriting up to $10 million – added to the deal at the urging of Senate Republicans – made the vote tougher still.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi credited the measure with helping 155 million Americans with tax cuts across the board. “But in order for the middle class to get that tax cut, the Republicans insist that those who make the top 2 percent in our country, that they get an extra tax cut—adding billions of dollars to the deficit and not creating any jobs,” she said during Thursday’s floor debate.

“To add insult to injury, they have now added this estate tax provision,” she added. “In order for the President to get those terms accepted, the Republicans insisted that $23 billion in benefits go to 6,600 wealthiest families in America—6,600 families holding up tax cuts for 155 million Americans. Is that fair? Pelosi urged her caucus to vote for an amendment to expand the reach of that tax. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell threatened to scuttle the deal if the House altered the package.

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