Walz breaks with Dems and votes for GOP tax extension bill

WASHINGTON – Along mostly partisan lines, the House passed a bill Tuesday evening to extend the payroll tax cut another year. DFL Rep. Tim Walz was one of just 10 Democrats to defy the party and support the measure, which passed 234-193. The remainder of Minnesota’s congressional delegation voted with their respective parties except for GOP Rep. Michele Bachmann, who was absent.

“I am sick of the political games being played in Washington,” said Walz. “It is time to get things done. Tax breaks for the middle class will strengthen our economy and create jobs that will help us tackle the long-term national debt facing our country.”

Along with the tax extension, the measure also extends unemployment assistance but scales back the benefits over time. But a series of policy provisions favored by Republicans and attached to the bill made it toxic for most Democrats. One measure overrides a recent White House move to delay a decision on whether to build the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada. President Obama has threatened to veto the bill if it contains the pipeline language.

Freshman Republican Chip Cravaack hailed the bill’s passage. In a statement, he said, “This bill is good for workers, Minnesota, and America,” citing the estimated 20,000 jobs that the pipeline could create. Cravaack’s statement also included support from a labor union official based in his district.

“We applaud Rep. Cravaack’s effort to move the project forward and create work opportunities for heavy equipment operators and other skilled tradespeople,” said Glen Johnson, Business Manager of Operating Engineers Local 49.

To offset the cost of the tax and unemployment measures, the bill continues a pay freeze for federal workers.

Rep. Betty McCollum said she was disturbed about some of the policy provisions in the bill, including a measure to allow states to require the jobless to submit to drug tests before getting unemployment benefits.

While this version of the bill is likely dead on arrival when it reaches the Democratic-controlled Senate, it serves as the House GOP’s marker in a high-stakes negotiation with Senate Democrats about this issue and year-end spending bills. The tax measures expire at the end of the year and a short-term government funding measure expires Dec. 16.