GOP ties payroll tax to oil pipeline

December 14, 2011

By Stephen Dinan-The Washington Times

House Republicans voted Tuesday to give President Obama the payroll-tax-cut extension he desperately wants, but only if he accepts major changes to unemployment benefits and speeds up a decision on building the Keystone XL pipeline, which the administration has sought to delay until after the 2012 election.

The 234-193 vote came just hours after the White House said Mr. Obama would veto the bill if it reached his desk, rejecting the GOP’s proposed spending cuts and instead insisting the bill include the tax increases on the wealthy that he has made the centerpiece of his re-election campaign.

Complicating matters, Republicans accused Senate Democrats of holding a massive year-end spending bill hostage to the tax negotiations. With existing funding slated to run out on Friday, the stalemate risks yet another partial government shutdown – the third time this year lawmakers have pushed to the brink.

“The Democrats who run Washington have a responsibility to act,” House Speaker John A. Boehner said after the House vote. “The Senate can take up our bill and amend it, or it can pass its own bill. But the Democrats who run the Senate can’t continue to shirk their responsibility to govern.”

Congress is racing against several deadlines in addition to spending. Unless Congress acts, extended unemployment benefits run out at the end of this year, the 2-percentage-point payroll tax cut expires, and doctors would see a 27 percent cut in payments for treating Medicarepatients.

“This is not a time for Washington Republicans to score political points against the president,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said after the House vote. “Congress should not finish their business before finishing the business of the American people. They cannot go on vacation before agreeing to prevent a tax hike on 160 million Americans and extending unemployment insurance.”

Overall, Republicans say they’ve tried to give Mr. Obama everything he wants: an extension of the payroll tax cut into next year, another round of unemployment benefits – albeit at lower levels than Democrats hoped – and another round of the so-called “doc fix” that waives the 1997 budget law that tried to control costs by imposing ever-decreasing payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients.

In exchange, the GOP said it wanted to force the administration to make a decision on the pipeline, which would carry oil derived from Canada’s tar sands into the U.S.

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