This was a vote on final passage of legislation extending income tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003, and extending (for one year) unemployment compensation for laid-off workers who had exhausted their benefits.
This bill reflected a compromise negotiated between President Obama and Republican leaders. Obama – along with most congressional Democrats – favored extending only those tax cuts which benefitted middle class Americans. Republicans had insisted on extending tax cuts for all Americans, including those individuals with incomes over $200,000 and couples with incomes over $250,000. They had also opposed extending unemployment compensation for laid-off workers who had used up their benefits. Thus, the compromise bill provided for a temporary, two-year extension of the Bush-era tax cuts – as well as an extension of unemployment benefits for workers who had not yet received unemployment compensation for the maximum 99 weeks allowed under federal law Workers who had received unemployment compensation for more than 99 weeks were ineligible for further assistance under this bill.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-MI) urged support for the bill: “The Democratic majority in the House has made it crystal clear that we stand on the side of middle income families, of unemployed workers, of small businesses struggling in this difficult economy…. In order for the [Obama] administration to be able to include provisions that help lower and middle income families, it came at the price of assisting the very wealthy, the Republicans' priority. Their [the Republicans’] position has led to a package where the top six-tenths of 1 percent of the very wealthiest receive 20 percent of the benefits of the tax package [the bill being debated].”
Rep. Dave Camp (R-MI) urged support for the bill: “Americans are suffering through the deepest and longest recession since the Great Depression. This is not a time for political speeches or electoral posturing. This is a time to act responsibly, to do what is right, and to vote `yes.' Employers are begging us to pass this legislation. Small businesses and the National Federation of Independent Business are supporting the bill because they know they cannot afford a tax hike.”
Many Democrats (including most progressives) opposed this compromise bill. Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) argued it was short-sighted, fiscally irresponsible, and would primarily benefit the wealthy: “A vote on this agreement may or may not be good politics, but it is wrong. It continues the Washington tradition of ducking tough issues, making suboptimal choices, and trying to make every interest group happy…. Make no mistake, this vote means an exchange for a little temporary relief weighted in favor of those who need it the least. This bill means Americans will pay more in debt and interest, a sluggish economy, and costs of an unfair tax system. It's a bad bargain for the future of America's families.”
The House passed this bill by a vote of 277-148. Voting “yea” were 139 Democrats and 138 Republicans. 112 Democrats – including a majority of progressives – and 36 Republicans voted “nay.” As a result, the House passed legislation extending income tax cuts for two years, and extending unemployment compensation for laid-off workers who had exhausted their benefits.