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N.Y. senators divided on tax deal

December 15, 2010
By NATHAN BROWN, Enterprise Staff Writer

This area's two congressman have both said they support the compromise extending the Bush-era tax cuts that is expected to pass the U.S. Senate today. The state's two senators are divided on it.

The $858 billion compromise would extend the tax cuts for all income brackets for two years, extend unemployment insurance for another 13 months and set the estate tax at 35 percent on estates worth $5 million or more. It passed an initial, procedural vote in the Senate Monday evening 83-15. The Senate is expected to pass it between noon and 1 p.m. today.

New York Sen. Charles Schumer, who had pushed a compromise of his own earlier, ended up voting in favor of the deal Monday. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand voted against it, arguing it would increase the deficit too much and that the money should go toward job creation, not extending the current tax levels for millionaires and billionaires.

"I'm opposing this deal in its current form because right now we need to focus on the middle class, who are always left behind, not the people at the very top, who are doing just fine in this economy," Gillibrand said Monday.

Schumer's compromise would have extended the tax cuts for people making under $1 million yearly.

"It is unfortunate that Republicans have dictated an ultimatum that we either provide tax breaks for millionaires or else jeopardize our fragile economic recovery," Schumer said in a statement to several news outlets after he voted. "These millionaire tax breaks have exploded the deficit without creating jobs. We cannot allow them to become permanent."

Most Democrats had originally supported extending the Bush-era income tax cuts for individuals making under $200,000 yearly and families making under $250,000 yearly, but not higher incomes. Bill Owens, who represents most of the North Country in the House of Representatives, proposed raising that figure to $500,000. Owens also said he would support Schumer's proposal, before President Barack Obama and the Republicans reached the current deal.

After passing the Senate today, the compromise is expected to come before the House, where it faces more opposition from liberal Democrats who are unhappy with extending the income tax cuts for the wealthy and would like to see the estate tax higher.

But upstate Reps. Scott Murphy, D-Glens Falls, and Owens, D-Plattsburgh, both of whom consider themselves moderates, have said they support it.

"As with any compromise, there are provisions that I do not agree with, but I firmly believe that in this package the good outweighs the bad," said Murphy, who will represent the towns of North Elba and Keene for a few more weeks until Republican Chris Gibson, who won last month's election, takes office in January.

Murphy said he thinks the compromise will help the middle class and create jobs, and said it "is important that it is not a permanent extension that we can't afford but rather a targeted deal that will help get the economy moving and keep our long-term fiscal crisis in mind."

The compromise Owens had proposed got no support from the leadership in either party. He said in an interview last week that he is not happy with some aspects of the current deal, such as extending income tax cuts for the wealthy, but that he is happy with others, such as the estate tax levels, which he argued will help small businesses and family farms in his 23rd Congressional District.

"I support this compromise because job creation is my top priority," Owens wrote in an opinion article published in today's Enterprise. "Although I do not believe that extending tax cuts for the ultra-wealthy will create jobs, and I'm concerned that doing so will unnecessarily add to the debt, I believe a two-year extension is a fair compromise and that the overall agreement contains significant job-creation measures."



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