WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate Monday agreed to proceed on a $858 billion bill that would leave in place all Bush-era tax rates and extend jobless benefits.
Because of bad weather across the country, the vote was held open to allow senators to return to the Capitol for the roll-call vote. The voting began at 3 p.m. EST and shortly after 4 p.m., it was 62-7, though a final tally hadn't been announced.
Senators were considering whether to invoke cloture, which would allow the measure agreed to by President Obama and congressional Republicans to be considered. Sixty members must vote "aye" for the bill to advance.
Among other things, the bill would keep in place for two years all tax rates enacted during George W. Bush's administration, extend unemployment insurance for 13 months, temporarily reduce the payroll tax by 2 percent, shield middle-class taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax and extend several tax credits included in the 2009 economic stimulus package.
During floor debate, several senators said debate on whether to extend any or all of the Bush-era tax rates should be based on something other than a calendar. The rates are due to expire at the end of the year.
"(Action) should be based on the realities of the economy, not a date on the calendar," Sen. Mark Udall, D-Colo., said.
Some liberal Democrats have criticized Obama and the negotiated package, saying current tax rates should be extended only for individuals earning $200,000 or less and couples earning no more than $250,000. Obama also is against extending the current tax rates for high-end taxpayers because, among other things, he said it will add to the deficit. Obama said, however, he agreed to the all-or-nothing demand by Republicans in the interests of preventing a huge tax bill for middle-class taxpayers and getting jobless benefits to the unemployed.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member of Senate Finance Committee, said neither Obama nor Republicans "view it as ideal," but the measure must be enacted to prevent a huge tax increase and keep the fragile economic recovery going.
"It's a balancing act," Grassley said on the floor. "The time to dither is over."