Tax Cut Deal Passes in Late-Night Vote, Heads to President Obama

BY David Chalian  December 17, 2010 at 8:26 AM EDT

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer speaks to reporters Thursday at the Capitol. Photo by Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images.

The Morning Line

At 11:59 p.m. EST Thursday, moments before the House’s consideration of President Obama’s $858 billion tax cut package was about to slip into a second day, the tally was called.

“On this vote, the yeas are 277, the nays are 148 — the motion is adopted,” announced Pennsylvania Democrat Jason Altmire from the speaker’s chair.

With the Senate having approved the deal, 81-19, on Wednesday, all that remains is for President Obama to sign the measure. When he does, it will preserve all Bush-era income tax breaks for two years, extend jobless benefits for 13 months and cut Social Security payroll tax rates by 2 percent for one year on income up to $106,800.

While the wide-margin results suggest the package was never in doubt, that hardly seemed the case earlier Thursday, when Democratic leaders were forced to temporarily pull the bill from the floor because some members of the caucus were angry that the rules for debate allowed only one amendment, a change to the estate tax provision.

In the end, lawmakers were allowed to vote separately on the estate tax amendment offered by Rep. Earl Pomeroy, D-N.D., which would have exempted estates up to $7 million per couple, with a 45 percent rate above that, instead of a $10 million limit with a 35 percent top rate. Even with the support of top Democrats such as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who accused Republicans of extracting a “king’s ransom,” the measure was defeated, 194-233. Once it failed, the only remaining choice lawmakers had was to say “yes” or “no” on the Senate version.

“There probably is nobody on this floor who likes this bill and therefore the judgment is, is it better than doing nothing?” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer asked his colleagues. “I will vote for this bill because I don’t want to see middle-income working people in America get a tax increase, because I think that will be a depressant on an economy that needs to be lifted up.”

When all was said and done, a majority of Democrats — 138 — and an equal number of Republicans joined with Hoyer to vote in favor of the bill, while 112 Democrats and 36 Republicans made up the 148 opposed.

PULLED PORK

The discipline and unanimity Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has inspired in his conference through much of 2010 was once again on display in the final days of the lame-duck session.

McConnell kicked off the lame-duck session by insisting that nothing would happen in the Senate before lawmakers addressed tax cut legislation and funding of the government. Having successfully struck a tax deal with President Obama, McConnell began to build a solid wall of Republican opposition to the earmark laden, $1.1 trillion omnibus spending bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid earlier this week.

Of course, this means McConnell won’t get his $112 million worth of requested earmarks for Kentucky and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., won’t get his $500 million. But seeking to avoid the unseemly final party at the trough, Republicans agreed to shun their own earmarks to defeat the omnibus spending bill.

“The hypocrisy of my Republican colleagues caught up with them tonight,” said Reid as he conceded defeat and planned for a short-term, continuing resolution before government funding runs out Saturday night. “While publicly posturing for months against congressionally-directed spending, many of them worked in private to secure funding for priorities in their states. And when they were exposed for trying to have it both ways, they pressured their colleagues who had previously supported this critical bill to pull their support at the last minute.”

Said McConnell: “Now, there’s only one reason why cloture is not being filed and the majority leader, to his credit, already said it — he doesn’t have the votes. And the reason he doesn’t have the votes is because members on this side of the aisle increasingly felt concerned about the way we do business.”

“I think the message we ought to take out of this is that next year we’re going to listen to the American people, we’re going to do our work, do it in a timely fashion,” McConnell added.

With the battle over funding the government largely resolved, the Senate will begin voting on the remaining legislative priorities set forth by President Obama and the Democratic majority, including the DREAM Act, the repeal of “don’t ask, don’t tell” and the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia.

PALIN’S PROCESS

Former Republican vice presidential nominee and Alaska governor Sarah Palin told ABC News’ Robin Roberts that she is “some months” away from deciding whether or not to seek the presidency.

In an interview to promote her book, “America by Heart,” on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Palin accused President Obama of flip-flopping on extending the Bush-era tax cuts for all Americans and not just those earning less than $250,000 per year.

“I would say that it is a flip-flop in his position on taxes because he was so adamant about not allowing the tax cut extension to take place for job creators, and then all of a sudden one day he was fine with it,” Palin said, adding, “He, you know, can term it compromise. I term it flip-flop.”

Explaining her opposition to the tax cut legislation headed to President Obama’s desk Friday, Palin said, “It’s still not good enough.”

As Palin continues through her decision-making process about whether to make a run for the White House, she’ll have to consider how to turn around tough poll numbers like those out Friday morning from ABC News:

“59 percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll flatly rule out voting for Palin for president — substantially more than say there’s no way they’d vote for Obama,” writes Gary Langer, who conducted the poll for ABC News.

SEE YOU NEXT YEAR

This is the last Morning Line of 2010. We’ll return after the New Year’s holiday, but you can keep up with the NewsHour’s political coverage by visiting our politics page.

Happy holidays to all!