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Tax break extension passes Congress

WASHINGTON — Congress last week approved a two-year extension of Bush-era tax breaks that had been set to expire on Jan. 1.

The same bill renewed jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Congress also voted, yet again, on repealing the Pentagon’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy that prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

The Senate agreed to use much of the final hours of the 111th Congress to debate a new arms reduction treaty with Russia. And the House voted in favor of a study that could literally turn up the volume on electric cars.

Tax package

President Barack Obama, who negotiated the $858 billion package with Senate Republicans, signed it into law on Friday.

Although it received overwhelming support in the end, the package was sharply criticized by budget hawks over running up the deficit, and liberals upset that the wealthy would get the full benefit of the tax breaks.

“There probably is nobody on this floor who likes this bill,” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md.

The Senate voted 81-19 in favor of the bill. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., voted for it. Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., opposed it.

The House passed the bill, 277-148. Reps. Shelley Berkley and Dina Titus, both D-Nev., and Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for it.

‘Don’t ask, don’t tell’

After the Senate failed earlier this month to pass a defense authorization bill that included repeal of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, the House took up a stand-alone bill instead.

Lawmakers voted 250-175, in favor of the bill that would repeal the prohibition on gays serving openly in the military.

Berkley and Titus voted for repeal. Heller voted against repeal.

On Saturday, the Senate voted 65-31 to pass the bill. Both Ensign and Reid voted for it.

New START Treaty

The Senate voted 66-32 to debate ratification of an arms reduction treaty that Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed in April.

The new START treaty, which needs 67 votes to be ratified, would reduce each country’s deployed nuclear warheads by a third and sets up a process to restore inspections of each side’s arsenal.

Proponents, who include every living former secretary of state, say it is essential to get weapons inspectors back in Russia.

Opponents worry that it could jeopardize the nation’s missile defense program and complain that debate should not take place during a lame-duck session.

A final vote was expected before adjournment.

Reid voted to begin debate on the treaty. Ensign voted against opening debate.

Make some noise

The House voted 379-30 in favor of ordering a study that could eventually lead to noisier electric cars.

It’s all about pedestrian safety, according to proponents.

The super-quiet hybrid and electric cars now on the streets pose a danger to pedestrians — particularly the blind — who are otherwise alerted to gas-guzzling noisemakers.

National Highway Traffic Safety Administration research has found that hybrid and electric vehicles are twice as likely to be involved in a pedestrian collision at a low speed than gasoline- powered vehicles.

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously earlier this month, would require a Department of Transportation study to determine the minimum level of sound needed to reduce collisions between pedestrians and electric cars.

Berkley, Titus and Heller voted for the study. Berkley and Titus were co-sponsors of the bill.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at purban@stephensmedia.com or at 202-783-1760.

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