Senate wraps up year's work – finally
The US Senate – battered by fiscal crisis and gridlock – voted Saturday to fund the government through FY 2012 and extend a payroll tax cut, set to expire on Dec. 31. The House is expected to vote next week.
A weary Senate, battered by fiscal crisis and gridlock, wrapped up the year on Saturday with votes to fund the government through FY 2012 and extend a payroll tax cut, set to expire on Dec. 31.Skip to next paragraph
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These votes avert a government shutdown and, following a House vote expected early next week, also delay for two months a Social Security payroll tax hike for 160 million Americans and a cutoff of federal emergency benefits for long-term unemployed workers in January.
“I’m very pleased to see the work that the Senate has done,” said President Obama, in a statement following Saturday’s vote. The payroll tax cut and extension of jobless benefits, a key part of the White House jobs plan, were initially opposed by many Republicans.
“While this agreement is for two months, it is my expectation – in fact it would be inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle-class tax cut for the rest of the year,” he added.
By contrast, the $915 billion “megabus” spending bill, which passed the Senate 67 to 32, was largely anticlimax. The decision to hold basic operations of government for FY 2012 to a $1.043 trillion level – $31 billion below the level for FY 2011 – was worked out at the brink of the first-ever default on the US national debt last summer.
In a nod to the costs of winding down two wars, the Pentagon, veterans’ health care, the State Department, and foreign operations see increases, although the hike for the Pentagon was lower than previous years. The Environmental Protection Agency, the National Labor Relations Board, the Election Assistance Commission, and energy subsidies, unpopular with conservatives, face significant cuts.
The House approved the FY 2012 spending package on Thursday, 296 to 121. Eighty-six House Republicans opposed the bill, on the grounds that it spent too much. The bill passed with the support of 149 Democrats and 147 Republicans.
The toughest negotiations the days before the end of this session of Congress involved extending the payroll tax and other expiring provisions – and, especially, how to pay for it.