By Ken Berry
It was closer than initially expected, but the Senate approved a bill on July 25 to extend lower income tax rates for most Americans. The measure passed in Democratic-controlled Senate by a narrow 51-48 count. Vice President Joe Biden was waiting in the wings in case his tiebreaking vote was needed.
Under the new bill, current income tax rates are preserved for single filers with an income under $200,000 or less, and joint filers with an income under $250,000. The legislation is supported by the Obama administration.
The Democratic coalition in the Senate was able to survive the "no" votes cast by Joe Lieberman (I-CT) and Jim Webb (D-VA). But the majority was able to hang on to "yes" votes from two fence-sitters, Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Ben Nelson (D-NE), who both voted against similar legislation in 2010.
Despite the victory for Democrats, the Senate approval was mostly about political posturing. This tax measure is almost certainly destined for defeat in the Republican-controlled House. But now the Obama camp can point to its efforts to preserve tax relief for the middle class.
In another vote held earlier in the day, the Senate turned down a Republican proposal that would have extended favorable capital gain, dividend, and estate tax provisions for one more year. The vote, which ran mostly along party lines, was 45-54. Two Republican senators, Susan Collins (R-ME) and Scott Brown (R-MA) defected to the other side, while Mark Pryor (D-AR) voted in favor of the proposal. Senator Pryor is up for reelection in two years.
Both parties seem intent on making the case that they are the ones striving to cut taxes while the opposition is attempting to raise taxes. We will see more grandstanding on tax reform as the election draws closer.