Senators sent the House a bill backed by President Barack Obama to extend tax rates only for families making up to $250,000 a year.
The Senate passed the Democratic bill, 51-48, after reaching a deal to allow simple majority votes for Republican and Democratic plans to extend the 2001 and 2003 tax cuts enacted under President George W. Bush.
The GOP offered a plan by Finance ranking member Orrin Hatch (Utah) to extend all of the expiring Bush tax rates for a year and provide relief from some other tax provisions, along with establishing an expedited process for a tax code overhaul next year.
Senators turned back the Hatch plan, 45-54. Vice President Joseph Biden appeared for the votes, even though he was not needed to cast a tie-breaking vote. The continued absence of Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), who has been away from the Capitol recovering from a stroke, meant that if 50 Senators supported the Democratic bill, there would be no tie.
Sens. Jim Webb (D-Va.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) voted against both plans.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) agreed to allow up-or-down votes on the pair of proposals to extend the 2001 and 2003 Bush tax rates in a bid to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to go on record supporting Obama’s plan to extend the rates for all but the top bracket.
Vice President Joe Biden waits to conduct a mock swearing-in ceremony with Sen. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, in the Capitol's Old Senate Chamber, December 2, 2014. Schatz was sworn in to serve the remainder of his term since he was appointed to the seat after Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, passed away.