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Senate Clears Payroll Tax Deal for Obama’s Signature

The Senate passed the payroll tax holiday compromise today, 60-36, extending through the end of the year a tax cut for millions of Americans as well as jobless benefits.

The measure will now go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The product of a rare bipartisan agreement in a House-Senate conference committee, the $160 billion legislation passed on a 293-132 bipartisan vote in the House earlier in the day, but neither side put up enough votes to pass it alone.

In the Senate, most Republicans opposed the measure but declined to attempt a filibuster. Like the House, there was bipartisan opposition in the Senate to the measure for a variety of reasons.

“I understand this is a compromise and not everyone likes everything in here,” House Way and Means Chairman Dave Camp said on the House floor.

The Michigan Republican co-chaired the conference committee with Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), and after a few public hearings, the two men and their staffs hashed out the agreement behind closed doors with the aide of leadership.

The bill extends the payroll tax holiday for 160 million Americans and long-term unemployment insurance benefits until the end of 2012 as well as pushes off a scheduled cut to reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients until the end of the year.

Notably, House Republicans waived their three-day rule in order to bring the bill to the floor today instead of Saturday.

Senate Republicans have said they are chafed about not being more involved in the discussions.

While all House conferees and the four Senate Democratic conferees signed off on the conference report, none of the three Senate Republicans that Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appointed to the committee did.

Nevertheless, the bill’s passage ends the months-long and often arduous negotiations that were almost derailed several times.

The main sticking point throughout was how to pay for the legislation.

Late in the negotiations, Republicans dropped their insistence that the $100 billion tax cut be offset, setting the stage for negotiators to reach an agreement on how to pay for the other portions.

The money is raised through a combination of telecommunications spectrum auctions, cuts to new federal workers’ pensions and a cut to President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Still, the cuts caused many Members to object to the legislation, with Democrats saying they go too far and Republicans believing they do not go far enough.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer unleashed a blistering floor speech against the legislation before the vote, noting that the cut to federal workers compelled him to vote “no.”

“This Congress is on the path to be the most anti-federal worker Congress that I have served in,” the Maryland Democrat said. “We talk here and we pass laws here, but none of that talk and none of those laws make a difference unless someone implements what we say.”

The Senate took up the conference report shortly after House passage.

Though many in the Senate GOP were quiet about how they planned to vote on the bipartisan agreement, several Democratic Senators, including Mark Warner (Va.) and Joe Manchin (W.Va.), announced their opposition to the bill Thursday.

In a floor speech, Warner expressed concern that the package would not be fully paid for.

“I would say the most important issue, and the one that is an overhang on everything else we debate here, is our inability to come to grips with our debt and deficit,” Warner said. “I know as we try to nurture this growing recovery, that one of the ways we take on that debt and deficit is by having a growing economy.”

Other Democrats, such as Sen. Barbara Mikulski (Md.), said Thursday that they oppose the deal because of the cuts to federal worker pensions. Though Mikulski said she hadn’t decided whether she was a firm “no” vote, she noted that she disliked “the entire” package and believed it to be a “bailout” for billionaires.

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