The extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut endorsed by President Barack Obama would save taxpayers hundreds of dollars next year while adding billions to the federal deficit. Many Republicans and some Democrats argue the tax cuts aren’t worth the expense because they haven’t helped the flailing economy at a time when the federal deficit has climbed to $15 trillion. Proponents describe it as necessary relief for the nation’s workers.
Heller and Berkley both back an extension but claim the other is threatening to kill the measure by not funding it properly.
Heller, representing the Senate GOP, proposed a bill last week that would have paid for extending the existing 2 percentage point payroll tax cut by reducing the size of the federal work force through attrition and freezing federal employee pay for three more years. The $120 billion legislation also sought to allow taxpayers to donate cash to the U.S. Treasury on their tax returns.
It bombed, with Democrats and more than two dozen Republicans voting 78-20 against the measure Thursday.
A rival plan pushed by Senate Democrats also failed in a 51-49 vote last week. That version would increase the payroll tax cut next year. The $265 billion proposal would have cost more than twice as much as Heller’s measure. Democrats proposed to pay for it with a 3.25 percent surtax on income above $1 million.
Another Senate vote is scheduled for Thursday, with Democrats dropping the millionaire surtax to 1.9 percent. The revised legislation would also adopt Heller’s proposal to eliminate millionaires’ and billionaires’ eligibility for unemployment compensation and food stamps.
Heller’s Senate spokesman said Heller is reviewing the proposal. It’s unclear whether Heller will revise his plan and put it before the Senate again.
Berkley, who could vote on similar legislation in the House next week, said Congress must tax earnings over a million dollars to pay for the more generous payroll tax cut. She slammed Heller’s proposal Tuesday, calling him a “Wall Street Republican.”
“It’s important that everybody pay their fair share and that includes the wealthiest among us,” she told reporters on a conference call. “If the only impetus for job creation was low taxes, everybody in the United States would have two jobs.”
Heller’s spokesman, Stewart Bybee, noted that Berkley has not helped draft a compromise bill or voted on the issue.
“Dean is actually engaged in the process coming up with solutions,” Bybee said. “We are introducing bills and pushing things.”
Berkley also called on Heller to confirm Richard Cordray to head the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau during a vote scheduled in the Senate Thursday. Heller has asked the White House to overhaul the agency, raising concerns about what he described as its unchecked authority.
Berkley and Heller are locked in a nasty election battle that could decide which political party gains control of the Senate in 2012. She has sought to portray him as a foe to the middle class, while he has cautioned Congress against raising taxes on small business owners who create jobs.