Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, has come under increasing pressure to pass a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut.
House Republicans blocked a Senate bill on both Tuesday and Wednesday that would have extended the 2-percentage-point cut in Social Security and Medicare withholding taxes, along with emergency unemployment benefits and the "doc fix" for preserving the current Medicare reimibursement rates to physicians, for another two months (see House GOP Blocks 2-Month Payroll Tax Cut). Boehner insisted that the Senate bill should be reconciled in a conference committee with one passed by the House earlier this month that would have extended the tax cut by a year.
However, the bill passed by the House contained provisions distasteful to many Democrats, including cuts in funding for health care insurance exchanges and means testing of retirement benefits.
"The differences between the two different bills can be quickly reconciled to provide the American people the certainty of a full-year bill," Boehner wrote in a letter Tuesday to President Obama. "There are still 11 days before the end of the year, and with so many Americans struggling, there is no reason they should be wasted. You have said many times that Congress must do its work before taking vacation. Because we agree, our negotiators and the House stand ready to work through the holidays. I ask you to call on the Senate to return to appoint negotiators so that we can provide the American people the economic certainty they need."
Senate Democrats have so far declined to appoint any members to a conference committee, though they may need to do so after the holiday break. Many have already left Washington for the holiday break.
The White House is encouraging people to write in describing what they would be able to do with $40, the average amount estimated to be withheld from their paychecks next year unless the payroll tax cut is extended. On Thursday, the White House said it had received more than 30,000 responses so far on its Web site, and thousands more had tweeted their responses. “If the House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill, or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days,” President Obama said Tuesday. “I saw today that one of the House Republicans referred to what they’re doing as ‘high-stakes poker.’ He’s right about the stakes, but this is not poker.”
The Wall Street Journal published an editorial Wednesday urging Boehner to agree to the two-month extension. The two-month extension had been agreed to by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., with the intention of coming up with a way to pay for a full-year extension after Congress returns from the holiday break in January.
“GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected,” said the editorial. “Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest. The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.”
Obama has reportedly telephoned both Boehner and Reid in an effort to resolve the stalemate, according to White House spokesman Jay Carney.
Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., also urged Boehner to allow the two-month extension. On Thursday, he said on CBS’s Early Show that failing to extend the payroll tax “hurts the Republican Party.”
Another Republican senator, Dean Heller, R-Nev., who had introduced an earlier Senate bill extending the payroll tax cut before voting for the Reid-McConnell compromise, also criticized the House Republicans. “There is no question we need to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year,” he said in a statement Monday, according to the Las Vegas Sun. “However, there is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out. What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people.”
Boehner is expected to issue a statement Thursday morning on his plans for the next step in the payroll tax cut battle.
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