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Senate approves deal to extend tax cuts, unemployment benefits

By a vote of 81 to 19, the Senate moves the compromise package on to the House, where final action is possible by the end of the week. But House Democrats are seeking to amend the estate tax provision of the deal.

December 15, 2010|By Lisa Mascaro and Michael A. Memoli, Tribune Washington Bureau

Reporting from Washington — The Senate has passed legislation that would temporarily extend the George W. Bush-era tax cuts and renew unemployment benefits for 7 million Americans, moving the compromise package on to the House of Representatives.

Despite qualms from members of both parties in the House, final congressional action seems possible by week's end. The exact timing will depend on whether Democrats are successful in efforts to amend the package.

The final vote in the Senate was 81-19.

In addition to the tax rate and unemployment insurance extensions, the bill would trim the payroll tax by 2 percentage points for a year and reinstate the estate tax, but at a lower rate than was in force before it lapsed at the end of 2009.

The Senate earlier defeated amendments that would have made tax cuts permanent, or extended tax cuts only on the first $250,000 in income.

House Democrats, who revolted against the package last week, will target the estate tax provision, preferring a 45% estate tax that would be applied to estates larger than $3.5 million for individuals and $7 million for couples.

But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) warned Tuesday that changing the legislation with days remaining in the congressional session could upend the tenuous pact, which the White House agreed upon with Republican leaders.

Speaking before the Senate's action, President Obama again urged Congress to move swiftly in bringing the tax debate to a close.

"We worked hard to negotiate an agreement that's a win for middle-class families and a win for our economy, and we can't afford to let it fall victim to either delay or defeat," he said shortly before heading to a meeting with 20 CEOs.

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