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Middle-class tax cut extension passes Senate: Policy or politics?

Senate Democrats squeak through an extension of middle-class tax cuts. Republicans deride it as damaging to the economy. And a January train wreck for spending cuts and tax increases looms even closer.   

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Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., center, talks about the yearlong tax cut extension bill Democrats passed by a near party-line 51-48 vote, at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, July 25, 2012.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

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Senate Democrats squeezed through an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for households making up to $250,000 Wednesday, pushing a measure that has little chance of Congressional passage but instead highlights both the persistent gridlock and the quest for political points ahead of November’s election.

The 51-48 vote was so tight that Vice President Joe Biden was called to preside over the debate, sitting in the speaker’s chair in case he was needed to serve as a tiebreaker. 

Two retiring senators, Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, who caucuses with Democrats, voted with a united Republican front against the bill.  But a slew of Democrats in tough reelection contests including Sen. Jon Tester of Montana to Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri held the line by voting in favor.

Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R) of Kentucky allowed the vote to proceed with only a simple majority in order to put Democrats on the record as supporting or promoting a proposition that Republicans deride as a massive tax increase on small businesses.

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