- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2010

Capping a giant end-of-year victory, President Obama on Friday signed into law a bill preventing the largest tax increase in history by extending the bush-era income tax cuts across the board for another two years.

At a signing ceremony with Democrats and Republicans alike, the president called the package a “victory” for the American people.

“The legislation I’m about to sign is a substantial victory for middle-class families across the country,” said Mr. Obama, flanked on a stage by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. “They’re the ones who need relief right now, and that’s what’s at the heart of this bill.”

The legislation puts to an end uncertainty about the Bush-era tax cuts, which would have expired at the end of the year — a scenario that would have resulted in a tax hike of about $3,000 for the average family.

Democrats and Republicans had clashed over an extension of tax relief for the wealthy, a disagreement that ultimately ended in a compromise brokered by Mr. Obama and Senate Republicans. The bill extends tax cuts across the board for another two years, along with a 13-month extension of unemployment benefits.

Mr. Obama on Friday echoed earlier pitches of the deal as the best bipartisan agreement both sides could hope for, holding it up as an example of putting the American people before politics.

“That’s the nature of compromise: yielding on something each of us cares about to move forward on something all of us care about,” he said. “It’s a good deal for the American people. This is progress, and that’s what they sent us here to achieve.”

Of course, lawmakers at both ends of the spectrum found portions of the deal hard to swallow. In particular, House Democrats, in their first post-election rebuke of the president, revolted against Mr. Obama’s concessions to Republicans on the estate tax, saying he gave away to much to the GOP by agreeing to a top rate of 35 percent for estates worth more than $5 million. Without action, the rate would rise from zero to the 2001 level of 55 percent for all estates above $1 million.

In the end, after adopting a caucus resolution against the deal and holding a separate vote on the estate tax provision, House leaders brought the measure to the floor and passed it with Republican help.
For their part, conservative members of the GOP opposed the deal on the grounds that it lacked any spending cuts to offset the new unemployment benefit spending.

But Mr. Obama and his allies sold the deal as a quintessential compromise, something that will be increasingly necessary in light of the new calculus in Congress as Republicans in January take over the House and see their numbers rise in the Senate.

“This package is the result of leaders from both sides coming together to act on behalf of the American people at the time they need it most,” Mr. Joe Biden said.

In addition to extending jobless benefits and the Bush-era tax cuts, the bill includes a slew of other tax breaks aimed at the middle class, as well as a new temporary payroll tax cut.