Obama taxes pass Senate

Proposal narrowly sent to House

WASHINGTON – In a political gamble that will reverberate through the November campaigns, the Senate approved President Barack Obama’s plan to give tax breaks to all but the top 2 percent of American taxpayers over the objection of Republicans.

Democrats believe Wednesday’s action will shift the debate in a Congress that has been stalemated by partisan inaction, giving momentum to Obama’s proposal – and drawing a contrast with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential candidate – by sending it to the GOP-led House. The Senate approved the measure 51-48, with two Democrats joining the solid Republican opposition.

Failure by Congress to extend the tax rates from the George W. Bush administration would result in a tax increase on ordinary Americans, a prospect that poses enormous risk for both parties.

At the same time, Democrats rejected a Republican proposal Wednesday, 45-54, to extend the tax cuts for all Americans. Two Republicans, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Susan Collins of Maine, crossed party lines to oppose the measure; one Democrat, Mark Pryor of Arkansas, joined the GOP.

Emphasizing the importance of Wednesday’s vote, Vice President Joe Biden made a rare appearance in the Senate to preside over the session, which provoked a spirited debate between party leaders in the usually cordial chamber.

“Republicans should not force middle-class families off their fiscal cliff to protect more wasteful giveaways to millionaires and billionaires,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev. “We’re on the side of the American people.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, noting the presence of Biden, reminded the chamber that he and the vice president negotiated the 2010 deal that extended the then-expiring Bush tax rates for two more years – until this December.

McConnell said that Biden, who under Senate rules was unable to engage in debate, should be “grateful” he does not have to explain the difference in the White House’s position between then and now.

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