By ANDREW TAYLOR 02/18/12 06:47 AM ET
Associated Press via: Huff Post
WASHINGTON — The $143 billion payroll tax cut won by President Barack Obama may be the last significant measure he receives from a deeply divided Congress that promises to only get more polarized as Election Day approaches.
Obama’s coveted renewal of the payroll tax cut for 160 million workers and jobless benefits for millions more caps a five-month campaign-style drive against reluctant Republicans.
Under the bill Congress approved Friday, workers would continue to receive a 2 percentage point increase in their paychecks, and people out of work for more than six months would keep jobless benefits averaging about $300 a week, steps that Obama says will help support a fragile recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.
It would also head off a steep cut in reimbursements for physicians who treat Medicare patients.
The tax cuts, jobless coverage and higher doctors’ payments would all continue through 2012.
Passage of the legislation hands Obama a victory over objections from many GOP lawmakers who oppose it but were eager to wipe the issue from the election-year agenda.
It also clears away a political headache for House Republicans, who blocked a two-month extension of the tax cut and jobless coverage in late December, only to retreat quickly under a buzz saw of opposition from conservative and GOP leaders from around the country.
With that history, Republicans seemed ready to get the fight behind them and change the subject for the rest of this election year.
“We’re dumb, but we’re not stupid,” Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., told reporters after he voted. “We did not want to repeat the debacle of last December. It’s not that complicated.”