Congress extends payroll tax cut, jobless benefits

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Without the stomach for another protracted, politically-risky game of chicken of a payroll tax cut extension, the House and Senate moved quickly Friday to pass legislation extending the tax cut through the end of the year.

The legislation, set to be signed into law by President Barack Obama, will save the average American worker $40 per bi-weekly paycheck, while also extending jobless benefits and preventing a drop in the reimbursement rate for doctors serving Medicare patients — all at a total cost of $119 billion against the deficit.

As part of the deal, Republican leadership negotiated some smaller provisions — paying for the other spending increases in the bill by making cuts in other federal programs involving health care and government pensions — but relented on the sticking point that lead to last year’s stalemate, a demand that all the tax cuts be paid for.

Under the bill, the government would save $15 billion over 10 years by reducing its contribution to federal employee pensions and requiring new workers to contribute more.

Five of Colorado’s seven members of Congress voted for the compromise bill: Democratic Reps. Diana DeGette of Denver, Jared Polis of Boulder and Ed Perlmutter of Golden; and Republican Reps. Scott Tipton of Grand Junction and Mike Coffman of Centennial.

“With our economy rebounding, it is essential we extend tax relief for thousands of hardworking Coloradans and 160 million middle-class Americans,” said Perlmutter in a statement. “I am disappointed the Republicans chose to pay for this tax relief by taxing new federal employees, however it was important to make sure seniors on Medicare have continued access to their doctors and we continue to help those people who are looking for work because they lost their job through no fault of their own.”

Two Republicans, Reps. Cory Gardner of Yuma and Doug Lamborn of Colorado Springs voted against it in the House, which passed the bill 293-132.

“I support an extension of the payroll holiday, but it has to be paid for because the money comes out of Social Security,” Gardner said. “The two extensions we voted on last year for 2 and 12 months were both paid for through spending cuts. While this time around the proposal did contain many conservative victories, I ultimately could not support it because it continues deficit spending at the expense of Social Security.”

The Senate followed within minutes, approving the bill on a 60-36 vote, with both Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet voting yes.

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