It continues to be ugly out there — out there, as in Congress. The reason: partisan gridlock. The increasingly likely victims: those who received payroll-tax cuts and unemployment benefits. Middle income Americans. But — hey — it’s great grist f
or the 24/7 partisan wars. Your tax dollars at non-work:
The Republican-led House today rejected a Senate-passed bill that extends a payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for two months.
The vote was 229-193. The tax cut and unemployment benefits expire on Dec. 31.
“The bottom line is a two-month patch is irresponsible. That’s why the House is taking a stand,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said on the floor prior to the vote.
Most voters won’t accept that explanation. To many voters, they’ll read or heard headlines with the bottom line: the staunchest defenders of tax cuts for the wealthy have rejected something that will save them some money. If the GOP gets what it wants on this issue, it might neutralize the damage. But if the cuts and benefits DO expire on December 31 the Democrats have a very strong campaign issue and Republicans may be the victims of a case of massive buyer’s remorse among independent voters who gave them the House in 2010.
If the benefits expire at the end of the year, 160 million Americans will see a tax increase while about 2.2 million long-term unemployed will see their benefits disappear. Medicare payments to physicians also will drop, raising concerns that doctors will limit their care to seniors.
House Republicans voted to move to formal negotiations with the Senate to resolve the differences between their two bills. The House has passed a one-year extension, while the Senate approved over the short-term deal over the weekend.
The move to open formal negotiations is complicated since the Senate already has adjourned for the year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., had expected the House to pass the short-term fix, but House Republicans revolted.
“There’s no reason the House, the Senate and the president cannot spend the next two works working to get (a deal) done,” Cantor said, calling on the Senate to return to Washington.
In effect Cantor is proving to be the Speaker of the House in terms of actual power over votes. And, of course, the White House reaction was expected.
The White House blamed Republicans for the stalemate.
“The shenanigans of the last 48 hours from the House GOP leadership are why 43% of Americans think this is the worst Congress in history,” tweeted White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
*** Cornered: To understand how House Republicans have backed themselves into a corner on extending the payroll tax cut, two Senate Republicans running in some of the most competitive contests next year are distancing themselves from the House GOP. “The House Republicans’ plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA), who most likely will run against Democrat Elizabeth Warren in 2012. “The refusal to compromise now threatens to increase taxes on hard-working Americans and stop unemployment benefits for those out of work.” And Sen. Dean Heller (R-NV), who will run against Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, added: “What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people. Congress can work out a solution without stopping the payroll tax-cut extension for the middle class.” Bottom line: You know where the politics on this issue are when Brown and Heller are for/against something. Two other veteran senators, Richard Lugar and Olympia Snowe, also both up for re-election in states carried by President Obama in ‘08, have joined the chorus of Republicans asking the House GOP to simply vote out the Senate bill.
*** Boehner on an island: House Republicans aren’t the only ones who have put themselves into a corner; so has House Speaker John Boehner. How did he so badly misread his House GOP conference on this measure? We are pretty confident that there’s no way Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell would have left Boehner high and dry on this payroll tax cut — and given that high five — if it was undesirable to Boehner. Boehner’s speakership could be badly damaged from this episode. Is he leading or simply trying to stay in front of the crowd?
Here a European news report summarizing the battle:
UPDATE: The Washington Post:
The House on Tuesday rejected a bipartisan Senate compromise to extend a payroll tax cut for two months, along with unemployment benefits, plunging Washington on the eve of Christmas into uncertainty about the fate of the tax cut enjoyed by 160 million workers.
On a vote of 229 to 193, the House set aside the Senate bill and requested a formal conference with the Senate, setting up a showdown with the Democratic-controlled Senate and President Obama, who has demanded that the House approve the short-term plan now to avoid a Jan. 1 tax hike.
Democrats, who have pushed for the full-year payroll tax cut for months, say Congress should accept the temporary measure now and return in January to solve an impasse over how to extend the cut for the full year.
The Senate deal would also postpone a scheduled cut in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
In debate before the procedural votes that shelved the Senate bill, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) charged that “the extreme tea party element of the Republicans in the House” was blocking an extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits for millions of Americans.
“They alone are standing in the way of a tax cut for the middle class,” she said.
The next step to resolving the situation is extremely uncertain. Senate Majority Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) has charged that the GOP backed out of a deal reached between both parties in the Senate and pledged he will not appoint Senate negotiators to restart talks.
Rank-and-file House members, meanwhile, said there will be little for them to do once the conference committee is appointed and many plan to leave Washington for the holidays. That could potentially undermine the Republican promise to work through Christmas to craft a deal.
Procedurally, the House vote was structured as a motion to reject the Senate’s deal. That meant there was no ability for House members who supported the deal to vote for its adoption.
Democrats charged that Republican were denying the two-month deal an up-or-down vote because they believed it would pass. Republicans said they wanted to let their members vote affirmatively to reject the Senate bill.
The House set its course of action at the raucous, two-hour closed-door meeting Monday night, House Republicans compared themselves to the underdog, principled Scots in the movie “Braveheart” and, over takeout chicken sandwiches, promised to knock down the Senate bill.
Senate Democrats accused House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) and his leadership team of walking away from the deal as a capitulation to tea-party elements and said they had no plans to reopen talks. They said that if the House rejects a deal that was adopted in the Senate on an 89 to 10 vote, it would amount to nixing the tax cut.
(Merry Christmas to you all!)
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