Senate Democrats squeak through an extension of middle-class tax cuts. Republicans deride it as damaging to the economy. And a January train wreck for spending cuts and tax increases looms even closer.

Senate Democrats squeezed through an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for households making up to $250,000 Wednesday, pushing a measure that has little chance of Congressional passage but instead highlights both the persistent gridlock and the quest for political points ahead of November’s election.

The 51-48 vote was so tight that Vice President Joe Biden was called to preside over the debate, sitting in the speaker’s chair in case he was needed to serve as a tiebreaker.

Two retiring senators, Sen. Jim Webb (D) of Virginia and Sen. Joe Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, who caucuses with Democrats, voted with a united Republican front against the bill.  But a slew of Democrats in tough reelection contests including Sen. Jon Tester of Montana to Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri held the line by voting in favor.

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