In a party-line vote of 51-48, the Senate yesterday passed a middle-class tax cut, keeping present tax reductions.
The vote marked the first time the Democratic majority in the current Senate has been able to prevail on the question of taxes and came as the GOP appears nationally to be losing its traditional image as the party that saves people money on their taxes. It will be easier now for Democratic lawmakers campaigning across the country to expose Republicans as interested only in tax cuts for the rich.
Fifty of the 51 Senate Democrats and Sen. Bernie Sanders, Ind.-Vt., backed the tax cut bill. Sens. James Webb, D-Va., Sen. Joseph Lieberman, Ind.-Conn., and 46 Republicans opposed it. Sen. Mark Kirk, R-Ill., was absent.
Democrats at first scheduled the vote on the measure fully expecting a Republican filibuster would kill it. Republicans were out-maneuvered when they agreed not to filibuster in exchange for Democrats agreeing to a prior vote on a GOP substitute that included tax cuts for the rich.. The Republican substitute lost, 54-45.
At the urging of their unions thousands called and e-mailed their senators before each of the two votes. Labor leaders are saying they will put pressure on the House now which, under its Republican leadership, is expected to hold any tax cuts for the middle class hostage until it can get approval of tax cuts for the rich.
"Hard working families often end up paying a higher tax rate than the richest 2 percent," said Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees in a special bulletin to the union's membership. "That's why it is so important Congress lets the Bush tax cuts expire for the wealthy - families making over $250,000 a year," the bulletin, signed also by AFSCME's Secretary-Treasurer Laura Reyes, added.
"With millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, the president's plan to extend the tax cuts for the middle class and let them expire for the wealthy is a step in the right direction," the union bulletin read.
"A majority of senators and a majority of Americans support our plan to help middle-class families," said Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. after the vote. "Our plan gives 114 million taxpayers - again 98 percent of American families - certainty that their taxes won't go up, and it reduces the deficit by almost $1 trillion by ending wasteful tax breaks for the rich.
Reid went on to explain the Republican proposal:
"The Republican proposal takes a very different approach - and that is an understatement - to extend tax breaks for the top 2 percent, but it fails to extend tax cuts to help middle-class families. Their plan would hike taxes by another $1,000 for middle-class families while handing out an extra $160,000 tax break to every millionaire."
Photo: Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. (center) speaking at a press conference in Washington, D.C. At left is his colleague Senator Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. J. Scott Applewhite/AP