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Concerns led to bipartisan support of tax bill

President Obama's bipartisan tax deal won bipartisan support from Western New York's House members, with Rep. Brian Higgins reluctantly supporting the bill and only Rep. Louise M. Slaughter opposing it.

Higgins, a Buffalo Democrat, had previously said he was inclined to oppose the bill because it does not extend the Renewal Communities tax break program, which, he said, led to new investments in Buffalo, Niagara Falls and Jamestown.

But after the 277-to-148 vote late Thursday, Higgins said: "We were given a straight up or down vote, and the cost of inaction would be far worse for Western New York families and seniors. Inaction would mean standing by and allowing taxes to increase on middle-class American families -- an unconscionable decision during our fragile economic recovery."

Higgins vowed to keep pressing to reinstate the Renewal Communities provision, which resulted in the renovation of the Larkin building in Buffalo as well as other local properties.

"Further, I am strongly opposed to provisions in the bill that dedicate billions of dollars to tax cuts for the very wealthiest of Americans, especially at a time when we are trying to address our national debt," Higgins said.

As for Slaughter, a Fairport Democrat, those tax breaks for the rich were just too much.

"The addition of $858 billion to the debt to provide tax cuts to the top 2 percent of Americans, and an estate tax that costs $25 billion to benefit 6,600 families, is an atrocious giveaway in a nation riddled with debt and unemployment," she said before voting against the bill.

Slaughter -- who, as Rules Committee chairman, is part of the departing Democratic House leadership -- also stressed her concern that the bill's temporary payroll tax cut will harm Social Security.

"The bill, for the first time since Social Security was signed in 1935, interferes with the revenue stream that funds Social Security," she said. "The example being set by not allowing the Bush tax cuts to expire convinces me that this 'temporary' disruption will also not be allowed to expire in an election year."

The region's two Republican House members, both fiscal conservatives, said Congress had no choice but to pass the bill.

"Raising taxes on anyone at a time when unemployment remains near 10 percent is the wrong approach at the absolute wrong time," said Rep. Chris Lee, R-Clarence. "By passing this legislation, we ensure that families can balance their budgets and small businesses once again know what their expenses will be so they can invest in our economy."

But Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, expressed much more reluctant support. Reed came to Congress last month arguing that all new spending must be paid for, but the tax bill extends unemployment insurance for another year while adding to the deficit.

"Despite my reservations about the spending, I voted in favor of continuing the current tax rates," Reed said. "If this bill were to fail, all tax rates would increase in just two weeks. That would directly impact every person and business, lead to greater unemployment and a longer recession."

He noted that if Congress did not act to extend the tax cuts by Jan. 1, the poorest taxpayers would take a hit of more than $500, while the average middle-class family in his district would pay more than $1,500 in additional taxes.

"Knowing for years that this day was coming, Congress chose to do nothing," Reed added. "Thus we were backed into a corner where the current tax rates [were set] to expire on all American taxpayers if we did not act by Dec. 31. It didn't need to be this way. Shame on the politicians whose inaction over a decade forced us onto this precarious ledge."

e-mail: jzremski@buffnews.com

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