‘Tax extenders’ package passes Senate

‘TAX EXTENDERS’ PACKAGE PASSES SENATE…. We’re starting to see at least some movement in the Senate on legislation related to the economy. In recent weeks, the upper chamber, usually overcome by scandalous Republican obstructionism, has passed a modest jobs bill and an extension in unemployment benefits.

Today, it approved an even more ambitious measure.

The Senate approved a $140 billion package of tax breaks and aid to the unemployed Wednesday, the most substantial effort by the chamber to boost the nation’s economy since passing the stimulus bill last year. Six Republicans joined 56 Democrats to pass the “tax extenders” measure, 62 to 36. […]

“While our Republican colleagues on health care have been stonewall[ing], on jobs they know that they block us at their own political peril . . . and substantive peril as well,” said Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.).

The Senate measure contains one-year extensions of unemployment benefits and COBRA health insurance, plus extra funding to help states pay for Medicaid. The bill would also help struggling private pension funds and block a scheduled cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Beyond those provisions, the bill carries renewals of several expired tax credits, including those for research and development, biodiesel, energy-efficient home improvements and the deduction of state and local sales taxes. Those extensions helped attract the support of Republicans, and the praise of business groups.

Here’s the roll call. One Democrat, Ben Nelson of Nebraska, voted against the bill and supported a Republican filibuster. But on final passage, six Republicans — Bond, Collins, Murkowski, Snowe, Vitter, and Voinovich — joined the majority. (Maybe Vitter is getting a little worried about his re-election campaign?)

It’s hard to get too excited about the Senate package — this is the kind of step the chamber is expected to approve — but given the low expectations of the Senate being able to do much of anything, it’s nice to see some movement.

The House version is significantly different, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the new chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, raised the prospect today of a formal conference committee to work out the differences. Since Republicans would filibuster the selection of participants, and the final package again, this would drag out the process even longer.

But in the meantime, we have something resembling progress.