The Senate on Saturday passed a two-month extension of a payroll-tax holiday, unemployment benefits, and the "doc fix" to keep Medicare physicians from a pay cut next year, setting up another fight over the tax and benefits package in 2012.
The legislation passed 89 to 10. The House is expected to take up the measure Monday, and despite some Republican opposition in that chamber, it is likely to pass. The Senate considers a spending bill on Saturday that funds the government for the rest of the 2012 fiscal year. The fiscal year began Oct 1.
The temporary payroll-tax measure requires a White House decision on whether to allow the controversial Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days - a Republican jab at President Obama, who last week said he would oppose a bill with Keystone language included. The president on Friday night said he would sign the bill despite the measure. White House officials and Senate Democrats accepted GOP arguments that the language allows the president to delay a decision on the pipeline during an environmental review.
The two-month extension, which came after talks on a longer deal collapsed Friday, means Congress will resume the payroll fight in February. Democrats argued the shorter deal benefits them politically.
"We feel that two months from now we're in really good shape because now the fight is on the payroll tax, which is something where we have strength," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., who heads Senate Democrats' policy and messaging office. "People want the payroll tax reduction. And if [Republicans] keep opposing it and opposing it, it's gonna hurt them."