WASHINGTON — Most of Arkansas' delegation went along Friday as Congress, in a rare display of bipartisan, approved legislation to continue a temporary break on payroll taxes through the end of the year.
WASHINGTON — Most of Arkansas’ delegation went along Friday as Congress, in a rare display of bipartisan, approved legislation to continue a temporary break on payroll taxes through the end of the year.
The payroll tax holiday, which would otherwise have expired at the end of the month, easily cleared the House and Senate after months of heated debate.
U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., was the only Arkansan who voted against the measure. The rest of the state’s delegation voted for it, including U.S. Rep. Steve Womack, R-Rogers, who said he did so despite being conflicted over its cost.
“It was a vote a lot of our conference struggled with, myself included,” Womack said.
For months, Republicans had insisted on offsetting cuts in the federal budget to pay for extending the 2 percent payroll tax break that is worth about $80 a month to those earning $50,000 a year. This week, Republican negotiators agreed to pay for the extension through additional borrowing.
The legislative package that emerged also continues a program of unemployment benefits for people out of work longer than six months, and it averts a pending 27.4 percent decrease in Medicare payments to doctors.
Newly hired federal workers would pay for part of it through their pension contributions.
“The reforms to unemployment insurance and the temporary fix to Medicare payments to doctors were a big plus, while the additional pressure to the nation’s deficit is something we still struggle to solve,” Womack said.
Boozman said he objected to lowering payroll taxes that are needed to keep Social Security solvent.
“If Americans fail to pay into the system now, there will be severe shortages when money is needed in the future. We cannot continue borrowing from tomorrow to pay for today,” he said.
Boozman said he was also disappointed that the bill puts off the Medicare payment decrease for another 10 months rather than finding a permanent solution to the problem.
Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ark., said he favored the bill because it would put “much-needed money into the pockets of 1.4 million hardworking Arkansans.”
Rep. Mike Ross, D-Prescott, said he was glad that Democrats and Republicans found common ground on the package that cleared the House, 293-132, and the Senate, 60-36, this afternoon before lawmakers left Washington for a weeklong recess.
“Without congressional action, almost every working family in Arkansas will see their taxes go up at the end of this month when the payroll tax cut expires,” Ross said. “This legislation will be a big help to a great number of families in Arkansas and across America, and it will be critical to ensuring our economy continues to recover and grow.”
Rep. Tim Griffin, R-Little Rock, said he was concerned about the impact on the deficit, but believed the “good outweighs the bad.”
Griffin said he favored reforms to unemployment benefits and welfare that were included in the measure, such as allowing states to administer drug tests as a prerequisite to receiving such benefits.
Extending the payroll tax holiday through the rest of the year is expected to save someone earning $50,000 a year about $800. By year’s end, long-term unemployed would be able to draw benefits for as many as 73 weeks — down from the current 99-week ceiling in states with the worst job markets.
The bill was opposed by some Republicans who objected to increasing the deficit by as much as $100 billion. Some Democrats opposed it because of its impact on federal workers.