House delays payroll tax deal vote until Tuesday
"The overwhelming sentiment in our conference is that [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid, D-Nev., is the one who should be ashamed and that we should vote in light of day," said one senior House GOP source. "At the rate we were going we would have been here voting at 5 a.m."
The Rules Committee will consider several measures Monday night that the House will vote on Tuesday. Tuesday's votes will include a rule, a motion to reject the Senate plan and a motion to form a conference committee to hash out differences with the Senate, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.
This is in line with the leadership's earlier plans to reject the Senate's two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut but to not do so outright. The procedural moved is designed to gain the upper hand in end-game negotiations with the Senate. The maneuver will allow the Senate bill to remain at the House desk and available for future use, should the need arise, to become the vessel for a payroll-tax compromise. This will also mean the lawmakers are not voting directly on rejecting the two-month payroll-tax-cut compromise.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Senate Democrats must come back to Washington and admit their bill is dead. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he will not call back the Senate before Christmas and maintains that Senate Democrats won't be blamed if taxes are raised for the average working family by approximately $1,000.
"My House colleagues should be clear on what their vote means today," Reid said. "If Republicans vote down the bipartisan compromise negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders, and passed by 89 senators including 39 Republicans, their intransigence will mean that in 10 days, 160 million middle-class Americans will see a tax increase, over 2 million Americans will begin losing their unemployment benefits, and millions of senior citizens on Medicare could find it harder to receive treatment from physicians."
Boehner will likely name his conferees before the House votes to form a conference committee, against Democratic objections, on Tuesday.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has told Boehner he will offer GOP support in the Senate for unanimous consent to appoint conferees to pressure Reid, the aides say. House Republicans are contemplating other ways to publicly force Reid's hand, including holding a conference committee that cannot convene because for a lack of Democratic attendance. Despite Boehner's call for Congress to continue its work, most House Republicans will be allowed to return to their districts. Senior House GOP aides say only leadership and conferees will actually stay in Washington.
"There's nothing for our other members to do until the Senate does something," one top-level aide said. "So most members won't be here."
The House threat to attack the Senate for going on vacation rather than negotiating a compromise bill represents a reversal of the situation less than two weeks ago. At the time President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders, concerned the House would pass its preferred payroll-tax cut extension then leave town without letting the Senate alter it, were threatening to stay in Washington and to launch daily attacks on Republicans for leaving.
Republicans are now throwing those statements back at Democrats in an effort to increase pressure on Reid to agree to a conference.
These are the latest developments in a fight that was renewed unexpectedly this weekend after the deal to extend the 2 percent payroll-tax cut for two months was agreed to by the Senate but then rejected by House Republicans.
Each side is locked in combat and seeking advantage as the benefits will evaporate on Jan. 1 if no agreement is reached. The measure also would extend unemployment benefits and spare doctors from a 27 percent Medicare reimbursement pay cut.
Senate Democratic aides said there is no pressure on them to return and leadership is betting Boehner will cave after losing the coming public-relations war over who is to blame if the payroll-tax cut isn't extended.
Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., predicted that there won't even be a conference committee. "If there was a conference-and there's not going to be, in my opinion-they would have the same problems we've been having the last two weeks trying to get to an agreement," Hoyer said. But House Republicans, particularly the unruly freshmen class, said it is the Senate who will blink. At a news conference with about 10 other freshmen, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., said the Senate is "playing a very ugly game of political chicken with the American people."
Rep. James Lankford, R-Okla., chided the Senate for only passing a two-month measure when the House passed a one-year deal.
"Twelve months is short, two months is ridiculous," he said.
The displeasure voiced by the freshmen was echoed by others in the conference. "It's clear to me that this freshmen phenomenon that happened last year is starting to flex its muscle a little bit," said Rep. Steve Womack, R-Ark.
Senate Republicans were not spared from the ire of their House counterparts.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said he is "troubled" that the Senate approved the deal in an 89-10 vote, meaning most Republicans voted for it.
The intrasquad sniping among Republicans continued all day as some Senate Republicans said its the House GOP that is in the wrong.
Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts all urged Boehner to move the Senate version. Those senators hold seats Democrats hope to pick up next year.
"There is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out," Heller said in a statement. "What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what's good for the American people."
Earlier, Brown blasted the House GOP position in a statement. "The House Republicans' plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong," Brown said. "I appreciate their effort to extend these measures for a full year, but a two-month extension is a good deal when it means we avoid jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of American families."
The White House has made its displeasure clear with Republican leaders' apparent about-face.
"We need a partner in this," said White House press secretary Jay Carney. Referring to the Senate compromise, Carney said: "We had a partner in this. Blowing up the process now is playing politics with the paychecks of 160 million Americans."
Dan Friedman, Ben Terris, Shane Goldmacher, Katy O'Donnell, and Kelsey Snell contributed to this report.