WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway was one of the 293 House members — Republicans and Democrats — who voted Friday to extend a 2 percent payroll tax cut for 160 million American workers till the end of the year.
U.S. Rep. Randy Neugebauer, whose district includes Abilene, and U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry were among the 132 voting against it.
“While not perfect, this agreement is needed to ensure middle-class Americans are not hit with a tax increase next month,” said Conaway, a Republican from Midland, in explaining his “yes” vote.
The Senate cleared the bill on a 60-36 vote within an hour of the House vote, sending it to the White House for President Barack Obama’s signature.
The legislation extends the current payroll tax rate till the end of the year, prevents a cut in reimbursement for physicians who accept Medicare and renews benefits for long-term unemployed Americans.
The vote ends months of haggling between Republicans and Democrats over how to pay for the tax cuts.
Conaway said six weeks of negotiations with Democrats left Republicans with only two options: “vote no and raise taxes or pass the bill.”
Had the extension not been granted, workers earning $50,000 annually would have felt a $1,000 reduction in take-home pay for the year.
Under the bill, long-term unemployment coverage would be cut to a maximum of 73 weeks from 99 weeks for states with the worst unemployment rates of 9 percent or more.
The unemployment rate for Texas is 7.8 percent, according to December 2011 seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Unemployed workers in the state would get coverage for a maximum of 63 weeks, down from 86.
The bill allows every state to drug test unemployment insurance recipients who lost their jobs because they failed or refused to take a drug test.
Conaway said this was a common-sense policy he supports.
“I have pushed for this measure since December because I believe it is the right thing to do,” Conaway said. “We should not reward individuals who are unemployable because they cannot pass a drug test.”
Neugebauer, along with 90 other House Republicans, opposed the measure.
A statement issued by Lubbock Republican’s office stated the bill’s passage would hurt the country’s future by increasing its debt.
“Unfortunately, the bill also diverted an estimated $94.5 billion from the Social Security Trust Fund, which will be added to the deficit,” Neugebauer said.
Thornberry voiced a similar sentiment, suggesting that in addition to the deficit increase, the payroll tax cut would further weaken the Social Security Trust Fund as well.
“Not cutting other spending in order to offset the loss to the trust fund means that Social Security will be even more dependent on IOUs to meet its obligations,” Thornberry said in a statement.
Thornberry acknowledged the bill has some good points such as the “doc fix” — avoiding a 27.4 percent cut in the payment rates of physicians who accept Medicare — and reducing the unemployment coverage, but said it fell short of striking the right balance to win his vote.
“The bill cuts some money from Obamacare,” Thornberry said. “But on balance, it is not a measure that I can endorse.”