Peterson and Walz defy Dems on Bush tax cut vote

WASHINGTON – With tax issues at the heart of this year’s election campaign, two Minnesota Democrats who represent conservative, rural regions of the state joined Republicans Wednesday in what’s likely to be a symbolic vote to extend the Bush-era tax cuts for all taxpayers, including the wealthy.

U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and Tim Walz were among 19 Democrats who voted in favor of a unilateral, one-year extension of the current tax rates, which are set to expire at the end of the year. All four of Minnesota’s Republican House members also voted in favor of the extension, while DFL U.S. Reps. Keith Ellison and Betty McCollum were opposed.

Overall, the measure passed the House 256-171 with just one Republican joining Democrats to vote against the bill. The House bill is dead on arrival in the Democratic-controlled Senate; leaders there have vowed to not bring the bill up for a vote.

Led by President Obama, most Democrats have cast their proposal in terms of fairness, noting that taxes would only rise for 2 percent of taxpayers. Those earning less than $250,000 would see no change in their taxes but those earning more would see the Clinton-era tax rates return. Under the Democratic plan, the top tax rate would rise from 35 percent to 39.6 percent.

Peterson and Walz have regularly bucked their party in the past few months, throwing their support behind a Republican bill to authorize a new oil pipeline from Canada, a Republican bill to extend low student loan interest rates paid for by taking funds from the 2010 health care law and a measure to hold Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.

In a statement to MPR News, Walz said he voted for the Republican tax plan because the Democratic alternative offered on the floor would let the estate tax revert to the Clinton-era rate of 55 percent for estates larger than $1 million from the current 35 percent on estates larger than $5 million.

“While I support ending tax breaks for the wealthiest among us, the Democratic plan that would have accomplished this failed to add fairness to the estate tax to protect family farmers,” said Walz. “With the current high price of farm land, I cannot in good conscience support legislation that could hurt our hard working farmers who are the backbone of the rural economy in southern Minnesota.”

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