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Obama Unveils Broad Accord To Extend All Bush Tax Cuts

President Obama announced a broad "framework" agreement with Republicans that would extend all Bush-era tax cuts for two years, keep the dividend and capital gains tax at 15 percent and temporarily cut payroll and Social Security taxes.

President Barack Obama
Photo by: Pete Souza
President Barack Obama

Democrats, however, are resisting the deal and will meet Tuesday to discuss the plan. Earlier Monday, there were reports that a deal was "all but done."

Some key elements of the Obama/GOP deal include:

  • Two-year extension of all Bush tax cuts
  • Dividends and payroll tax would remain at 15 percent
  • A 13-month extension of unemployment benefits
  • A two percentage point cut in the payroll tax for one year.
  • A one-year cut in Social Security taxes
  • An estate tax at 35 percent with a $5 million exemption, proposed by Republicans.

The overall cost in lost revenue to the government is at least $450 billion in 2011 and could climb as high as $600 billion depending on how much the economy grows over the next two years.

Speaking at the White House, Obama said there were elements of the deal he personally opposed, including an extension of expiring income tax cuts at upper income levels and a more generous deal on estates.

But he said he decided that an agreement with Republicans was more important that a stalemate that would have resulted in higher income taxes at all income levels on Jan. 1.

"Make no mistake, allowing taxes to go up on all Americans would have raised taxes by $3,000 for a typical American family and that could cost our economy well over a million jobs," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reacted curtly to the president's announcement.

"Now that the president has outlined his proposal, Senator Reid plans on discussing it with his caucus tomorrow," his spokesman, Jim Manley, said in a written statement.

One top Republican, Rep. Dave Camp of Michigan, was more positive.

"This framework will allow us to extend all current tax rates and give economic recovery and job creation a chance," he said.

Democrats have repeatedly raised objections to including the upper-income in any plan to extend tax cuts enacted in 2001 and 2003 when George W. Bush was president.

The Democratic-controlled House recently passed legislation to let the cuts lapse on incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples. On Saturday, Republicans blocked an attempt by Senate Democrats to do the same.

Despite the grumbling, White House officials underscored the benefits of the overall proposal for lower and middle class workers.

They noted that without the proposed extension of long-term unemployment benefits, 2 million workers would lose their assistance in December, and 7 million by the end of 2011.

They said the payroll tax holiday under consideration would be for one year, and mean an extra $120 billion would remain in worker paychecks. The proposal would supplant an earlier White House demand to extend a tax cut for lower-income and middle-income families.

They also said there were tax breaks for businesses that would encourage them to expand operations, thus stimulating an economy that is struggling to recover from the worst recession in 80 years.

But White House officials were far more reticent about claiming economic benefit from a planned extension in the estate tax.

Officials said in discussions with Republicans, the White House was willing to entertain a two-year extension in which estates totaling $5 million and less would pass to heirs tax-free. Anything over that level would be taxed at 35 percent.

Many Democrats favor a far less generous proposal, under which the first $3.5 million would be tax-free, and anything above that level taxed at 45 percent.

The grumbling among Democrats underscored a dramatic shift in political power in the month since midterm elections, in which Republicans won control of the House and strengthened their hand in the Senate.

The newly elected lawmakers have yet to take their seats, but the White House has been quick to reach out in search of compromises.

Bu contrast, Obama spent his first two years in office generally bargaining with Democrats as he labored to pass key legislation such as an economic stimulus in 2009 and his health care overhaul earlier this year.

Momentum for a year-end deal picked up after Obama met at the White House last week with Republican leaders for the first time since his party's dispiriting election losses, and accelerated again when the government reported last week that joblessness had risen in November, to 9.8 percent.

The flurry of negotiations is taking place with lawmakers eager to wrap up their work for the year and adjourn for the holidays.

Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky have all said in recent days they believe a deal on tax cuts and unemployment benefits is possible by midweek.

If so, that would leave time for the Senate to hold a ratification debate on a new arms control treaty with Russia, which Obama has made a top year-end priority.

Senate Republicans have seemed more willing to hold a ratification debate in recent days as the negotiations over taxes intensified, suggesting at least an implicit link between the two issues in the talks.

Few details of the negotiations were available, including the length of a payroll tax holiday under discussion. But it appeared increasingly likely that any extension of the Bush-era income tax cuts would be for two years.

Obama and Democrats have long insisted that tax cuts be allowed to lapse for incomes over $200,000 for individuals and $250,000 for couples, saying that would cushion the impact on the deficit.

On the other hand, Republicans want all tax cuts extended permanently, arguing it made no economic sense to raise taxes with the economy still recovering from the recession.

Questions remained about how many concessions Obama could extract from Republicans in exchange for extending current tax rates for high earners, a proposal he opposed.

But without action, lawmakers face the prospect of delivering a tax hike to all taxpayers at the end of the year, when the current rates expire and revert to higher pre-2001 and 2003 levels.

Negotiations between the Obama administration and a bipartisan group of lawmakers centered on a two-year extension of current rates.

At the same time, a jump in the unemployment rate to 9.8 percent is putting pressure on Republicans to accede to Obama's demand that Congress extend unemployment insurance for a year.

GOP congressional leaders had opposed an extension of benefits without cuts elsewhere in the federal budget.

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