WASHINGTON — The Senate voted overwhelmingly Monday to limit debate on the White House-Republican tax-cut deal, a test vote that virtually assures Senate passage in a day or two of the plan to extend Bush-era tax cuts for two years.
Sixty votes were needed to shut off debate. A final vote is expected today or Wednesday on the tax-cut compromise crafted by President Obama and congressional Republicans.
Obama, in a brief statement after the Senate outcome became clear, said he understood the uneasy mood on Capitol Hill.
"I recognize that folks on both sides of the political spectrum are unhappy with certain parts of the package. And I understand those concerns. I share some of them," he said.
However, he said, "Taken as a whole, the bill that the Senate will allow to proceed does some very good things for America's economy and the American people."
The plan would continue benefits for the long-term unemployed for 13 months, reduce the Social Security payroll tax by 2 percentage points next year, set a 35 percent tax on estates of $5 million or more, and extend dozens of special tax breaks for businesses, energy and education interests.
Despite the vote, many senators displayed little enthusiasm for the package. Some were reluctant to extend the lowered rates for the wealthy, others didn't like extending jobless benefits without paying for them and most were unhappy that the deal would balloon the federal budget deficit.
But the deal ultimately got bipartisan support because without it, tax rates would rise for everyone on Jan. 1, unemployment benefits would be denied to 2 million jobless Americans, and the fragile economy might well slip back into recession.
The Senate is expected to consider some changes to the bill, but they're unlikely to pass. Congressional leaders warn that tinkering even slightly with the carefully crafted compromise could make it unravel.
The bigger bump in the plan's path is expected to be the House of Representatives, where rebellious Democrats voted last week against even bringing it up for a vote. Still, it will come up for a vote later this week, and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said flatly Monday that, "I think we'll pass a bill."