President Obama and congressional Republicans agreed Monday to a tentative deal that would extend for two years all the Bush-era income tax breaks set to expire on Dec. 31, continue unemployment benefits for an additional 13 months and cut payroll taxes for workers to encourage employers to start hiring.
The deal has been in the works for more than a week and represents a concession by Obama to political reality: Democrats don’t have the votes in Congress to extend only the expiring income tax breaks that benefit the middle class. The White House estimates that the proposed agreement would prevent typical families from facing annual tax increases of about $3,000, starting Jan. 1.
Obama was able to extract an agreement from GOP leaders to support an additional 13 months of jobless benefits, a 2 percent employee payroll tax cut and extensions of several tax credits aimed at working families that were included in the stimulus bill.
The deal also would revive the estate tax, but it would exempt inheritances of up to $5 million for individuals and $10 million for couples. Democrats on Capitol Hill are strongly opposed to setting the cap at that high a level and to the 35 percent rate discussed by Obama and Republicans that would apply to the taxable portion of estates.
In brief remarks Monday evening, Obama said he was disappointed that the deal would extend breaks for the wealthiest households, but he warned Democrats not to make good on threats to allow all the cuts to expire, as an expression of the party’s opposition to preserving the top-rate cuts. “Sympathetic as I am to those who would prefer a fight to compromise â¦ it would be the wrong thing to do,” the president said. “The American people didn’t send us here to wage symbolic battles.”
The White House is preparing for significant opposition from Democrats and will send Vice President Biden to meet with Senate Democrats on Tuesday. Later on Tuesday, House Democrats are scheduled to discuss the proposed deal.