Wednesday, July 25, 2012 | 6:30 p.m.
Democrats in the Senate faced down the closest thing to a legislative dare from Republican leaders Wednesday and passed a tax cut extension for those earning $250,000 or less by a simple majority.
It was the piece of the Bush tax cut plan they had long hoped to extend without having also to approve reduced tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. But for the last two years, that’s been an impossibility in the Senate, as Republicans have threatened to filibuster the measure every time.
President Barack Obama reignited the debate earlier this month when he began calling for a middle-class tax cut. Since then, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have been locked in a game of political chicken: Republicans want a full extension of the Bush tax cuts but don’t have the votes to get it through the Senate; meanwhile, Reid wouldn’t hold a vote on the president’s proposal of tax cuts up to $250,000, which made Republicans think maybe Democrats didn’t have the votes to get it through either.
On Wednesday morning, McConnell — either bored of the same old debate or simply feeling confident — decided to test this theory and, to the Democrats’ surprise, pledged not to raise any procedural blocks to the tax cut bill.
“Ordinarily, Republicans would do everything we can to keep a plan as damaging as the Democrats’ from passing. ... That said, the potential consequences of inaction on this issue are so grave that the American people deserve to know where their elected representatives truly stand,” McConnell said. “The only way to force people to take a stand is to make sure that today’s votes truly count.”
Reid staffers seemed confident the measure would pass but brought in extra insurance in the form of Vice President Joe Biden, who presided over the vote Wednesday afternoon, just in case they needed a tie-breaker.
It proved an unnecessary precaution, as the measure to extend tax cuts on earnings of $250,000 or less passed 51 to 48. The Democrats nearly held rank, losing only one of their own — outgoing Virginia Sen. Jim Webb — and managing to bring along two lawmakers, Sens. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Ben Nelson of Nebraska, who had opposed the same measure in 2010. No Republicans voted for the bill.
The measure is a non-starter in the House, which means it stands all but no chance of becoming law. But Democrats, including the president, are sure to take this win to the campaign trail.
“The American people have a ray of hope today that they are going to be protected,” Reid said after the vote. “This is how you get rid of the fiscal cliff. It’s simple. It’s revenue. ... Rich people support what we are doing, a majority of rich people, and a majority of Republicans. The only Republicans who do not support what we are doing are the House and Senate Republicans.”