WASHINGTON -- The Senate on Monday voted to move forward on a a two-year extension of the Bush tax cuts as well as a package of tax cuts and credits for the middle class, ethanol subsidies and a 13 month reauthorization of unemployment insurance. The vote follows months of insistent bipartisan concern about the size of the federal deficit.
The vote is being held open to accommodate senators arriving in town, but the package already had 66 votes in favor of moving forward shortly after 4:15. Eight senators stood against the deal: Republican John Ensign (R-Nev.); Democrats Jeff Bingaman (N.M.), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Russ Feingold (Wisc.), Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.), Pat Leahy (Vt.) and Mark Udall (Colo.); and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who spoke for hours against the bill on Friday.
UPDATE: As of 7:30 p.m. ET, the final vote stands at 83-15 (2 not voting). Of the 15 votes against, nine came from Democrats, five from Republicans and one from Sanders.
The bill, with the unusual name of Reid-McConnell, originated in negotiations between President Barack Obama and congressional Republicans. House Democrats last week resolved to urge their leadership not to bring the bill to the floor, but lower-chamber leaders have been signaling that the House will consider the Senate product -- though there will be attempts to amend it.
"It's clear it's the right thing to do for middle-income Americans," said Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), chairman of the chamber's finance committee. Baucus said he was confident the bill would make its way through the House. "It will pass," he said.
House Democrats are particularly offended by the estate-tax portion of the compromise, which funnels some $25 billion to some 6,600 families. The provision exempts the first $5 million in inheritance from taxation and reduces the rate on the rest.
Rep. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.) said he objected to the unfairness of the package. It "gives $68 billion to the trust-fund babies with security, it's going to last two years. To the unemployed, he gives $56 billion." Extending tax cuts for two years, said McDermott, while giving unemployment insurance for one, shows a legislative chamber with its priorities far askew.
When the deal was first announced, it was greeted with fury by some Democrats. "I'm going to argue forcefully for the nonsensicalness and the almost, you know, moral corruptness of that particular policy," said Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.), walking into a meeting with Vice President Joe Biden and Senate Democrats to discuss the deal on last Tuesday. "This is beyond politics. This is about justice and doing what's right."
On Monday, though, Landrieu said she would "reluctantly" vote to support cloture and move forward with the bill. "I'll be voting yes today, but I'm hoping there will be some amendments," she said before the vote. Landrieu was the 66th "aye."
Landrieu is working with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) to try to get a vote on an amendment that would end the tax cuts for the wealthy and apply the revenue to Social Security. But even if it's considered, the amendment does not have enough votes to meet the filibuster-proof threshold of 60 that has become a standard requirement for legislation in the Senate.
Asked what happened to her anger from last week, Landrieu said it remained -- but it was only for the tax cuts for millionaires, not the entire package.
"I'm still outraged about it," she said.
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