Senate Democrats capitulated to Republicans and passed a short-term tax cut and unemployment benefits bill that also forces President Barack Obama to make an unpopular decision on a major works project for the U.S.—the Keystone XL pipeline.
The Senate voted 89-10 during a rare Saturday session to approve the two-month payroll tax cut giving 180 million Americans an estimated $160, and extended unemployment checks for millions of out-of-work Americans—both centerpieces of Obama’s American Jobs Act.
Obama thanked Congress for its year-end work, including passage of a $1 trillion spending bill for next year, and said he expects lawmakers to extend the tax-cuts and unemployment checks for another 10 months after the holiday recess.
“It would be inexcusable for Congress not to further extend this middle class tax cut
for the rest of the year,” Obama said. “It should be a formality, and hopefully it’s done with as little drama as possible when they get back in January.”
The president failed to address the pipeline language, which forces him to make a decision within 60 days to allow construction of the project that promises 20,000 new jobs, or why he retreated on his veto threat if Republicans got their way.
The Keystone pipeline is a lose-lose situation for the president—approving the project angers his environmental base, which claims it will affect global warming; rejecting it will cost him union support from blue-collar workers who need the jobs.
The House will return to Washington next week for a final vote on the tax bill, and the president says he will sign it, as well as the massive appropriations bill the Senate also passed Saturday morning on a 67-32 vote.
Sen. Thad Cochran (R.–Miss.), ranking Republican on the Appropriations Committee, said the omnibus-spending bill for fiscal year 2012 contained “dramatic reductions in spending,” but numerous Republicans voted against the measure including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R.–Ky.).
“If there’s one thing Americans need right now its certainty, and in that regard, this bill clearly falls short,” McConnell said. “But Republicans approached this debate conscious of something Democrats in Washington tend to forget these days: in order to achieve something around here, you’ve got to work with the other side.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R.–Fla.) said the massive 1,200-page bill represents everything that is wrong with Washington.
“Our country faces major economic challenges, but Congress wasted the whole year stuck in partisan gridlock only to pass a funding bill that solves none of our problems, just to avoid a government shutdown,” Rubio said. This plan spends too much, wastes precious taxpayer dollars to fund a menu of job-killing regulations, anti-life provisions and earmarks, and has been ushered through Congress in a highly secretive and non-transparent manner that didn’t allow for consideration of even a single amendment. I cannot support it.”
The package completes funding for certain agencies Congress failed to complete this year, including money for the Departments of Defense, Energy, Homeland Security, State, Health and Human Services, Labor and Interior.
Key highlights include:
• $8.4 billion for EPA, a $223 million cut over last year
• $518 billion for the Pentagon, an increase of $5 billion over last year
• $32 billion for energy and water programs
• $21 billion for agencies that regulate banking
• $12 billion for Treasury, a cut of $882 million over last year
• $71 billion for Education, a $153 million cut over last year
• $42 billion for the State Dept. and Foreign Operations
• $39 billion for Homeland
Sen. John McCain (R.–Ariz.) criticized the Defense spending as laden with pork, including millions for new aircraft he said were nothing more than “crop dusters equipped with weapons.”
“The intentions are great,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R.–Okla.). “But with this bill, we have failed America.”