I was going to wait till the vote closed but after 3.5 hours, I lost my patience. By a vote of at least 83-15, the Senate invoked cloture on President Obama’s tax package. Those voting no were mostly Democratic: New Mexico’s Jeff Bingaman, Wisconsin’s Russ Feingold, Vermont’s Patrick Leahy, Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, Ohio’s Sherrod Brown, Colorado’s Mark Udall, North Carolina’s Kay Hagan, Carl Levin of Michigan, Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Independent who caucuses with the Democrats (and who mounted his own 8.5-hour filibuster last Friday).”I’m opposing this deal in its current form because right now we need to focus on the middle class, who are always left behind, not the people at the very top, who are doing just fine in this economy,” Gillibrand said in a statement following the vote. Sanders also released a statement:
It makes no sense to me to provide huge tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires while we drive up the national debt that our children and grandchildren will have to pay. I further object strenuously to the lowering of rates on the estate tax, which only benefits the top 0.3 percent, the very, very wealthiest people in this country. I also am concerned about a significant precedent which diverts $112 billion in payroll taxes away from the Social Security trust fund. Our goal now must be to strengthen Social Security, not weaken it. Of course we must extend unemployment benefits and the tax breaks that the middle class desperately needs, but in my view we could have and should have negotiated a much stronger agreement.
The only Republicans so far to vote against the deal were Nevada’s John Ensign, who is facing a tough reelection battle in 2012; Oklahoma’s Tom Coburn, Alabama’s Jeff Sessions and South Carolina’s Jim DeMint, who opposed the bill because of the unfunded financing of unemployment benefits; and retiring George Voinovich of Ohio.
A couple of senators who’d previously expressed reservations about the compromise negotiated between Senate Republicans and the Obama Administration voted to proceed. Mary Landrieu, a Louisiana Democrat, said she still planned to vote against the measure on final passage but she nevertheless helped block a filibuster attempt. Tom Harkin, an Iowa Democrat, also voted for cloture today despite criticizing the package last week. Harkin was likely swayed by the addition of an ethanol tax credit important to Iowan farmers.
In a brief statement, President Obama hailed the “strong bipartisan support” as proof “that both parties can work together.” He said the definition of compromise is “sacrificing something that each of us cares about to move forward on something that matters to all of us.” He said the vote was a “substantial victory” for the middle class and urged the House to act swiftly.
Final passage in the Senate is expected Wednesday, followed by House consideration by the end of the week.