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McCaskill, Durbin offer their take on the tax cut proposal, unemployment aid

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Dec. 13, 2010 - With a possible Senate vote Monday, U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has yet to state where she stands on the deal between congressional Republicans and President Barack Obama regarding the Bush-era tax cuts and the extension of unemployment benefits.

But McCaskill says it's clear from the calls that her office is receiving that the public is confused by the details of the proposals.

In an interview Friday, the senator emphasized that the unemployment benefit proposal deals only with people collecting aid beyond 26 weeks. The overall aid limit remains at 99 weeks and would not be extended, McCaskill said.

"There is no proposal to extend it beyond 99 weeks,'' she said, adding that complaining callers seems to think otherwise.

The upshot, she said, is that the proposal would simply give benefits to some out-of-work Americans that is equal to what others already have received.

As for the tax-cut plan, McCaskill observed that "the definition of a compromise is that there's points of it that everyone doesn't like."

The plan now calls for all the Bush tax cuts to be extended for two years, for all incomes, and for the re-instated estate tax to cover only estates above $5 million, with a tax rate of 35 percent. The House Democratic caucus is balking at retaining the tax cuts for the wealthy and wants the estate tax to be less generous. The package also would reduce the payroll tax for individuals for one year to 4.2 percent, down from 6.2 percent.

Regardless of what the lame-duck session Congress finally approves, McCaskill said she expected debate to continue over how the wealthy should be taxed. She noted that Republicans blocked a Democratic proposal last week that would have ended the Bush tax cuts for incomes above $1 million.

Meanwhile, Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the assistant Senate majority leader, offered his observations on several Sunday talk shows. He's supporting the Obama/GOP deal.

"We're counting votes in the Senate," Durbin said Sunday on CNN's "State of the Union" program. "(Majority Leader) Harry Reid and I have been on the phone over the weekend. And I can say that we have a good cross section of the Senate Democratic caucus from left to right who are prepared to accept this."

Even though he opposed segments of the tax-cut deal -- including its estate tax provision -- Durbin said he will reluctantly advocate a vote and approval of the bill this month. "In three weeks, Republicans take over the House of Representatives. We have to accept the reality."

Durbin added on the CNN program that the proposal represents "the only stimulus we can bring to this economy. We need to work together to pass it and hope that this economy gets well."

On Fox News Chicago, Durbin said the extension of federal unemployment insurance is necessary and will stimulate the economy. "If you look back in history, whenever we've had a period of unemployment over 7.2 percent, we have continued to extend unemployment benefits. Now we're up at 9.8 percent ... And there's a question: How long will we extend (the benefits)?

"This is a seriously weak economy; 127,000 folks in Illinois would have lost their unemployment benefits before Christmas if we don't act now to restore them. And 2 million people nationwide," Durbin said. "We're talking about folks who are getting an average of less than $300 a week. How are you going to live on that? You get by, maybe for a while on that."

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