WASHINGTON – The Republican-led House voted last week to extend expiring Bush-era income tax cuts for another year, over the objections of most Democrats who said full tax breaks should be limited to lower- and middle-class families.
The debate, which came as lawmakers prepared to recess for a five-week summer break, replayed partisan arguments made a week earlier in the U.S. Senate where Democrats hold the majority and passed a decidedly different bill.
Republicans said they wanted to extend the reduced tax brackets to taxpayers of all income levels in order to avoid undue harm to a fragile economy.
House Democrats were willing to apply the benefits only to the first $250,000 of household income, as the Senate had voted. Wealthier earners, they said, should contribute more of their money to reducing the deficit.
“The choice Republicans have made is to pass this bill, work toward comprehensive tax reform and create jobs. In contrast, my Democrat colleagues have proposed raising taxes,” said Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., who leads the House Ways and Means Committee.
Michigan Rep. Sander Levin, the ranking Democrat on the tax-writing committee, said Republicans were stubbornly sticking to an all-or-nothing approach at the expense of middle-class America.
Democrats also argued the GOP bill failed to extend separate tax cuts aimed at helping low-income families and students who pay college tuition.
“Everyone agrees that we should extend the middle-class tax cut. The Senate passed a bill that does just that. The president is ready to sign it this week. The middle-class families of this country need certainty, not some vague promises about something to be done in the future,” Levin said.
The House voted 256-171 in favor of the Republican bill. The roll call fell largely along party lines. Rep. Tim Johnson of Illinois was the only Republican to vote against the bill while 19 Democrats voted for it.
Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei, both R-Nev., voted for the bill. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., voted against it.
A separate vote was held on a Democratic amendment to extend the tax cuts only to families earning $250,000 or less. It failed, 170-257.
Berkley voted for the Democratic plan. Heck and Amodei voted against it.
DROUGHT AID FOR RANCHERS
The House approved a $383 million disaster relief bill to help livestock producers hard hit by this summer’s drought.
The measure, approved 223-197, would extend several early expiring provisions of the 2008 farm bill that affect livestock, trees, honeybees and farm-raised fish. Opponents said Congress should focus on passing a more comprehensive five-year farm bill renewal instead.
Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, the ranking Democrat on the Agriculture Committee, said he reluctantly voted for the disaster relief bill. “It is a sad substitute for what is really needed: a long-term farm policy,” he said.
Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., agreed that the farm bill is needed but noted that the most pressing business was to provide disaster assistance to producers affected by drought of epic proportions. “There is a problem out there. Let’s fix it,” he said.
Berkley, Heck and Amodei voted for the bill.
CYBERSECURITY BILL SHELVED
A Senate bill to strengthen the security of key computer networks was put on the shelf through the summer.
The White House had urged lawmakers to adopt legislation to protect against potentially catastrophic cyberattacks to the nation’s electrical grid, financial networks and transportation systems.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and other business groups opposed legislation they say is overly complex and cumbersome.
Proponents of the bill initially had sought to mandate minimum security standards to buttress computer networks. Companies believed they would have had to spend money to improve security even if they thought the threats were unlikely to occur.
Although the mandate was dropped in favor of voluntary standards, businesses remained opposed.
The Senate voted 52-46 to move the cybersecurity bill forward, falling eight votes short of the 60 needed.
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted to block the bill. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., supported the bill but voted against it in a procedural move that allows him as Senate majority leader to call it up again at a later time.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau reporter Peter Urban at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 202-783-1760.