11:44 am CST - December 21, 2011
Posted under The Scoop
House Republicans appointed to participate in a cross-Congress conference to hammer out differences over a payroll tax cut are preparing to sit at the negotiating table, but they face just one challenge — no one to negotiate with.
The House GOP announced its conferees would meet to discuss a strategy to get to a year-long extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut. At the same time, Democratic leaders were headed to the House floor to push for a Senate bill that calls for a two-month extension.
“Our Republican strategy is pretty simple, we’re going to stay her and get the work done now,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, a conferee. “Get the job done first, vacation later and that’s our message to the president.”
“The House GOP leadership must listen to the American people and allow a vote on the bipartisan Senate compromise,” Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “Unless they act responsibly and agree to the bipartisan short-term bill approved by Senate Republicans and Democrats, millions of Americans will see a tax hike.”
But as the standoff unfolds, most of Washington has left town for the holidays, participating in a mass exodus Tuesday night after a partisan vote to reaffirm the House position for a year-long extension to the payroll tax cut.
The House and Senate are in pro-forma session, which in effect means they haven’t adjourned but have sent everyone home until they have reason to reconvene and take action.
Still, Cantor said, with 10 days left in the year and an obvious wall between the House and Senate, lawmakers need to sit down.
“That’s plenty of time enough for us to go in, solve the differences, sit down, roll up our sleeves, work through a compromise so we can get the thing done. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do,” he said late Tuesday.
President Obama is also left in limbo, as his family goes on vacation to Hawaii and he remains in Washington, insisting the House take action to approve the Senate legislation and refusing to leave until a deal is struck.
That could make for a lonely holiday. House Republicans say isn’t plausible to pass a two-month extension.
“What the Senate passed is unworkable,” Cantor said. “The people that are in the business of payroll administration have said that prescription of a 60-day extension could cause increased uncertainty and costs and could actually hurt workers and small businesses. And I think right now, given the economic times and the tough year that people have had, they don’t need that.”
On Monday, the Treasury Department insisted that while a year-long extension of the payroll tax is preferable, a short-term cut is doable.
“While any short-term extension is bound to create some administrative complications, it is feasible to implement the bipartisan Senate bill, and the Treasury Department will work with employers to ensure the smoothest possible implementation,” said Jenni LeCompte, a Treasury spokeswoman.
Without a deal, Social Security taxes return to their 2010 rate of 6.2 percent. In 2012, that is on the first $110,000 of income. For households making $50,000 a year, that’s the equivalent about an extra $1,000.
While proponents like the White House say $40 a paycheck helps a lot of people afford a lot of items, critics say the cut does nothing to inspire hiring, and is merely a battle over which party gets to claim the mantle of tax-cutting.
The legislation doesn’t just provide $19 a week in extra income. Both the House and Senate restore cuts to Medicare doctors’ fees that are set to expire on Jan. 1, and they extend unemployment benefits for another year.
Trying to find a fix for the doctor payment cuts, Medicare announced Tuesday that, as it has in the past when doctors’ reimbursements have been cut through congressional inaction, it would withhold physicians’ payments for two weeks. The hope is that the problem gets fixed by then.
But given the intransigence on both sides, the leverage to an endgame may just be the ticking clock.
“We’re here. We’re ready to extend those payroll tax cuts,” Brady said. “The issue is will Democrats end their vacations and come back with us to solve that problem? Will the president insist that Democrats end their vacations and do their jobs first.”