Republican filibusters on Saturday blocked two U.S. Senate attempts to vote on extending Bush tax cuts for all but the highest income levels. The first cloture attempt related to an amendment to permanently extend all tax cuts affecting the first $200,000 of income for individuals or $250,000 for families. It also would have extended unemployment benefits. It needed 60 votes to pass but received 53 yes votes and 36 no votes (roll call). Iowa’s Chuck Grassley joined all Republicans present and a handful of conservative Democrats to block this measure. All 11 senators who didn’t vote were Republicans. Perhaps they didn’t want to go on record voting against tax cuts.
The second cloture motion related to Senator Chuck Schumer’s amendment, which would have extended Bush tax cuts for all incomes below $1,000,000. The idea was to force Republicans to show that they would defend millionaires’ interests even if doing so torpedoed tax cuts for everyone else. But many Democrats objected to Schumer’s plan, because it would cost $400 billion over ten years and would tacitly redefine earners up to $1,000,000 per year as middle-class. The vote was 53-37, with 60 yes votes needed to invoke cloture. Iowa’s Tom Harkin was among the small group of Democrats who voted no, as did Grassley and the rest of the Republicans.
A deal that would have allowed votes today on two Republican-proposed amendments, extending all the Bush tax cuts permanently or for a limited time, “fell apart when a Republican objected to it at the last minute, leaving a surprised and embarrassed Mitch McConnell at the table empty-handed.” Click through for David Waldman’s explanation of the procedural issues and why a Republican would want to prevent those votes from happening during the lame-duck session.
Joan McCarter posted a revealing exchange between Schumer and Grassley during today’s Senate debate:
Mr. Schumer: I thank my colleague. And through the chair, I’d simply like to ask my colleague this. I understand we have a different point of view here. We both care about deficit reduction. Could he please explain to me why it is okay to take $300 billion of tax cuts for those at the highest income levels, above a million, and not pay for it and yet we have to pay for unemployment insurance ex extension?
Mr. Grassley: I thought I made that point very clear, because the taxpayers are smarter than we in Congress are. They know that they give another dollar to us to spend and it’s a license to spend $1.15. So it just increases the national debt. And when it comes to paying for unemployment compensation, we can pay for unemployment compensation because the stimulus bill was supposed to stimulate the economy and it’s not being spent. And if you put money from stimulus into unemployment, you don’t increase the deficit and you’ll also have the money spent right away.
Mr. Schumer: I would just say that the answer doesn’t deal with deficit reduction. If you care about deficit reduction, the two should be treated equally. A dollar of tax break for millionaire and a dollar of increased unemployment benefits increases the deficit the same amount. However, every economist — I saw we had a chart up about economists before — will tell you that a dollar into unemployment benefits stimulates the economy about four times as much as a dollar into tax decreases for millionaires. That’s pretty universal. Mark Zandy, John McCain’s economic advisor during his campaign, said that a dollar of tax breaks for millionaires stimulates the economy about 30 cents worth. A dollar of tax — a dollar of unemployment benefits increases the economy by about $1.62.
Grassley and the rest of the Republicans should stop pretending to care about the deficit.
If I were Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, I would ignore whatever deal President Obama is working out with Republicans and refuse to schedule a vote on extending all the Bush tax cuts. Republicans had their chance to keep lower tax rates for everyone on their first $250,000 of income, but they said no.