Congress approves payroll tax cut

A limited payroll tax cut was approved by Congress Friday that is expected to be signed into law by President Barack Obama and will give an estimated 160 million workers an additional $10 in weekly pay this year.

The package also included more funding for unemployment checks and was passed in the House on a bipartisan vote of 293-132 — those voting “no” included 91 Republicans and 41 Democrats. 

The Senate quickly followed with a vote of 60-36, with 30 Republicans and six Democrats voting no.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said the measure was not intended to spur growth, but was meant to provide economic relief.

“The only reason the provisions at the core of this measure are even necessary is because the president’s economic policies have failed,” Boehner said. “It is also unfortunate that this agreement is only partially offset because of Democrats’ refusal to consider common-sense, bipartisan spending cuts, many of which were drawn from the president’s own budget.”

Negotiations have been ongoing between the two parties in the House and Senate since December, and the compromise was reached earlier this week after the Republicans dropped their demands that the $100 billion Social Security tax cut be paid for, and Democrats agreed to significantly reduce the length of time for unemployment checks.

Several Democrats and Republicans expressed their displeasure that the tax cut means $100 billion less going into the already struggling Social Security program.

“I never thought I would have to see the day when a Democratic president of the United States and a Democratic vice president would agree to put Social Security in this kind of jeopardy,” said Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa). “Never did I ever imagine a Democratic president would be the beginning of the unraveling of Social Security.”

However, Obama praised leaders of both parties and said they did “the right thing for our families and for our economy.”

Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) echoed those sentiments: “I’m not saying anything disparaging about the leadership on both sides of the aisle and both bodies, but we are taking money away from the Social Security trust fund and substituting that with an IOU that may or may not ever be paid.”

The legislation provides payment to doctors for services covered under Medicare, and pays for most of that through an $11.6 billion cut to ObamaCare. Another $5 billion was cut from the Prevention and Public Health Fund and reduces Medicaid spending by $4.1 billion.

Under the arrangement to fund unemployment, Democrats agreed to cut 20 weeks of payments and states will be allowed to require drug testing for recipients. Additionally, the bill bans strip clubs, liquor stores and casinos from accepting payments through welfare benefits.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), called the drug testing requirement “common-sense rules,” and that while the tax cuts were not offset, the additional spending was matched with new spending cuts.

“This is a significant victory for those of us concerned about the national debt,” Camp said.

“Not everyone likes everything in here,” Camp said, but both sides “scored significantly” in the agreement.

The earlier version of the bill required that the tax cuts be paid for. “It was good public policy, but it ended up not being good politics,” said Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.).

Rep. Allen West (R-Fla.) agreed: “This current deal is not good policy — but it is political posturing.”