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.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.