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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
And I'm Robert Siegel. For all the partisan debate over tax cuts, extending them, ending them, changing the code, it's been a while since Congress has actually passed a tax-related measure. But, today, the Senate narrowly approved a proposal from President Obama. It would extend the Bush era tax cuts on household income up to a quarter million dollars.
At the same time, a Republican plan to keep tax cuts in place for even the highest income levels was rejected. NPR's David Welna has the story.
DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: For days, Senate Republican leader, Mitch McConnell, had resisted Democrats' demands to hold simple up or down majority rules votes on the rival tax extension plans, but today, McConnell unexpectedly relented.
SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: We owe it to the American people to let them know whether we actually think it's a good idea to double down on the failed economic policies of the past few years or whether we support a new approach.
WELNA: But it was actually McConnell and his fellow Republicans who sought to double down on a tax policy that's been in place throughout the Obama Administration, an extension of all the Bush era tax cuts. Were that not to happen, Nebraska Republican Mike Johanns predicted dire consequences.
SENATOR MIKE JOHANNS: A massive tax increase will drive our economy to its knees.
WELNA: Just one Democrat, Arkansas' Mark Pryor, voted for the Republicans' plan as Delaware's Chris Coons noted that actually let Obama era tax breaks benefiting millions of low income families expire.
SENATOR CHRIS COONS: To reject a great tradition of a circle of protection of a prayerful reflection on those who are the neediest in our society and instead say we will extend (unintelligible) the tax rate breaks for the wealthiest Americans, I think, defies America's values.
WELNA: Utah Republican Orrin Hatch readily acknowledged the GOP plan lets tax breaks for the poor lapse.
SENATOR ORRIN HATCH: But when is it going to end? When is the upper 49 percent all going to have to continue to just carry everything in this country?
WELNA: The Democrats' plan, meanwhile, failed to address a big estate tax break that's also set to expire. Republican leader McConnell said that meant they were for a sharp tax hike on inheritances.
MCCONNELL: All but guaranteeing that tens of thousands of small and mid-size family businesses across the country will be broken up and handed over to the government.
WELNA: Democrats called such charges groundless. One of their allies, Connecticut Independent Joe Lieberman said neither Democrats nor Republicans offered what's truly needed.
SENATOR JOE LIEBERMAN: Sure, the people who are making the most should pay more in revenue, but I think we're at a point where we can't simply say to what we generally describe as the middle class, they don't have to give anything else.
WELNA: With Vice President Joe Biden on hand in case of a tie, the Democrats' plan passed 51 to 48. Florida's Bill Nelson voted for it, despite warning it was going nowhere in the Republican-controlled House.
SENATOR BILL NELSON: This isn't going to solve the problem. It's going to be more political posturing all the way up to the November election and then, in a lame duck session, we're going to get down to work.
WELNA: Which would prove yet again that Congress rarely gets anything done until it absolutely has to. David Welna, NPR News, the capital. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.