Congress clears payroll tax cut deal

H.R. 3630 easily cleared its 50-vote threshold in the Senate, 60-36, and would extend a 2 percentage-point payroll tax cut through the remainder of the year and also extend unemployment insurance through 2012 and dodge a planned cut to physician reimbursements under Medicare. 

Eager to exit Washington for a 10-day break, the Senate hardly debated the resolution with only Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who served on the conference committee, urging his colleagues to support the legislation. 

"At least 160 million Americans will be helped by this bill," he said. "Thirteen million Americans who are unemployed will be helped by this bill."

The most vocal opposition to the bill came from a Democrat, Sen. Tom Harkin (Iowa), on Thursday night. Harkin, a fierce advocate for the integrity of the Social Security program, railed on Obama and the Democratic leadership for agreeing to allow the cuts, which save average taxpayers about $40 per month, to be funded by depriving the Social Security Fund of about $90 billion over the next year. 

“I never thought I would have to see the day when a Democratic president of the United States and a Democratic vice president would agree to put Social Security in this kind of jeopardy," exclaimed a visibly agitated Harkin from the Senate floor. "Never did I ever imagine a Democratic president would be the beginning of the unraveling of Social Security.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) meanwhile hailed the report from the Senate floor on Friday morning as a bipartisan accomplishment and an example of how lawmakers ought to cooperate going forward. 

"An agreement to solve these issues was possible because Republicans learned the meaning of the word compromise," Reid said Friday morning. "Both sides gave a little to get something done."

Previous to that vote the Senate also defeated a a motion to invoke cloture on an amendment to the pending highway bill that would have perfected the bill by inserting Banking, Finance, and Commerce Committee language titles to the bill by a vote of of 54-42 and confirmed Jesse M. Furman, of New York, to be United States District Judge for the Southern District of New York by a vote of 62-34.