WASHINGTON — In the ultimate cap to a year of last-minute, half-loaf legislation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to extend a payroll tax cut for a two months, with the chamber’s leaders and the White House proclaiming victory, even as they pushed the issue of how to extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits into the new year.
In an unusual Saturday vote, the Senate approved a $30 billion package to extend unemployment benefits, a payroll tax holiday for millions of American workers and to avoid cuts in payments to doctors who accept Medicare through February, when Congress will once again be locked in battle over whether and how to further extend those provisions.
The agreement — should it get through the House — mirrors a series of 11th-hour deals devised by the the 112th Congress that appear to solve an impending crisis, but simply push forward, most notably the agreement last summer to raise the debt ceiling. That created a 12-member Congressional committee whose job was to complete the deficit reduction goals that Congress failed to achieve on their own. That group achieved nothing, necessitating the legislation that Congress is wrangling with now.
A failure to even extend a modest tax break for 160 million Americans for a single year — something both sides would love as political feather’s in their election-year caps — is particularly remarkable in a Congress charged with far more significant items.
“Today is an important day for our country,” said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, as he explained from the Senate floor Saturday why his chamber would be voting on a bill, conceived Friday in private between Senate leaders to extend the tax for only two months. “We are doing today exactly what the Founding Fathers thought we would do,” and passage of the bills is “an accomplishment important for the American people.”