House Set to Vote Down Payroll Tax Cut Extension

December 20, 2011
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WASHINGTON — Under fire from senators in their own party, House Republicans on Monday prepared to reject a Senate measure to extend a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans for two months, and demanded that the Senate reopen negotiations over the benefits.

Democrats, feeling the political wind at their backs, said they would not return to the Capitol to negotiate further until the House passed the short-term bill, one that Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, negotiated and voted for, along with 38 other Republican senators on Saturday.

“I will not reopen negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders and supported by 90 percent of the Senate,” Senator Harry Reid, the Nevada Democrat and majority leader, said in a statement.

“This is a question of whether the House of Representatives will be able to fulfill the basic legislative function of passing an overwhelmingly bipartisan agreement, in order to protect the economic security of millions of middle-class Americans.”

The standoff leaves Speaker John A. Boehner, Republican of Ohio, ending the year exactly where he began, in the middle of a nasty fiscal fight with Senate Democrats and his conservative freshmen in revolt, making it difficult to find a middle ground between mollifying the needs of his conference and coming up with legislation to avert disaster. But Mr. Boehner said repeatedly on Monday that he believed a deal for a one-year extension could still be struck, even with the Senate essentially adjourned for the year and the tax break set to expire on Jan. 1.

“I don’t believe the differences are that significant that we can’t do this for a whole year,” he said, “and not create more uncertainty unnecessarily. Why punt this until the end of February when we can just do this now and get it over with?”

A core group of conservative House members, many of them newcomers who provided the Republican majority, have balked all year at short-term spending agreements, proposed legislation to raise the debt ceiling and bills to increase disaster funding. It remained far from clear Monday night how, or whether, the tax cuts would be extended for 160 million workers and millions of unemployed Americans would continue to get jobless benefits next year.

“We are witnessing the concluding convulsion of confrontation and obstruction in the most unproductive, Tea Party-dominated partisan session of the Congress — the most partisan of which I have participated,” said Representative Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the No. 2 Democrat in House who has served for three decades, during a news briefing Monday.

The impasse began over the weekend when House Republicans said they would reject the Senate measure, which passed 89 to 10. It would, for two months, extend the payroll tax cut, continue unemployment benefits and prevent a cut in fees paid to doctors who accept Medicare, allowing lawmakers and the White House time to work out their differences on how to pay for a year-long extension.

Many rank and file Republicans have questioned the underlying concept of continuing the tax break — because the payroll tax reduction would reduce revenue to the Social Security trust fund, which would be replaced by payments from the Treasury. But House Republican leaders said on Monday that their objection was not to the tax cut itself, but to the temporary nature of the fix.

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