Looking to possibly one-up Senate Democrats, House GOP leaders this week will take up a piece of President Barack Obama's $447 billion jobs bill similar to a measure Republicans forced to the Senate floor last week.
The bill, expected to be on the House floor Thursday, would repeal the tax provision that requires federal, state and local governments to withhold 3 percent of nearly all of their contract payments beginning in 2013. The repeal proposal is one aspect of Obama's jobs plan that Republicans and Democrats support, but Senate Democratic leaders worked to defeat it last week because Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) appeared to be trying to use it as a contrast with a Democratic measure to give states cash to keep teachers, police officers and firefighters on the payroll.
The full Obama jobs plan failed to win the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP procedural blockade earlier this month. Senate Democratic leaders have been taking elements of the White House plan and forcing votes on them, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has promised to vote once a week on a part of Obama's proposal. However, Republicans appear to be trying to muddy that effort by taking parts they agree with and bringing them up for votes as well.
"House Republicans are serious about making sure America is a place for opportunity, and that is why we are focused on ideas supported by the president and Democrats in Congress that will create jobs and return economic growth," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said last week, announcing that the House would take up the bill. "This is an idea that the president supported when he spoke before Congress last month."
A Senate Democratic leadership aide was heartened that the House was moving to consider parts of the president's jobs bill and hopes it continues.
"It's a start," the aide said, adding that Democrats are not concerned that the House Republican move might usurp their message on pushing for passage of the president's proposal.
"This is not a big enough peg to hang a message on," the aide said. "Pass the payroll tax [reductions], then we'll talk."
The president's $447 billion plan includes a provision to cut the payroll tax in half for all workers in 2012, building on the 2 percent cut passed in December.
House Republican leadership aides Monday stressed that their repeal proposal has been part of the GOP's agenda since August — well before the president unveiled his jobs plan in early September. The aides also noted that when Obama unveiled his plan, the repeal provision had been identified by House GOP leaders as an area where Republicans and Democrats could work together.
Reid said last week that he plans to hold a vote when the Senate returns from recess next week on the portion of the jobs bill that would provide $60 billion to upgrade the nation's crumbling infrastructure. The bill would be paid for with a 0.7 percent tax on millionaires — a detail that is likely to ensure opposition from most, if not all, Republicans.
Word of Senate action on the infrastructure bill came after the Senate last week defeated the bill to provide $35 billion to keep teachers and first responders from being laid off. The legislation failed 50-50 — including three Democrats opposing the bill — short of the 60 votes needed to overcome a filibuster. The measure would have been paid for by a 0.5 percent tax on those making more than $1 million a year.
Senate Republicans, who opposed the millionaire tax offset, offered the 3 percent withholding measure as an alternative jobs bill provision to the Democrats' teachers bill, one that they argued was more bipartisan. A $30 billion rescission from fiscal 2012 discretionary spending would offset the cost of the GOP proposal.
The Senate GOP bill to repeal the withholding law failed, 57-43, on a procedural vote, winning fewer than the 60 votes needed for it to be taken up by the Senate. But it scored a larger vote tally than the Democratic measure and had bipartisan support: 10 Democrats joined all Republicans in voting to consider the bill.
And in a Statement of Administration Policy, the White House threatened to veto the Senate GOP measure.
The House measure, introduced by Rep. Wally Herger (R-Calif.) in February, stands a good chance of passing. The bill, which would cost about $11 billion in lost revenue, has about 269 co-sponsors from both sides of the aisle.
The original intent of the 3 percent withholding mandate was to go after scofflaw government contractors who avoid paying taxes, but repeal supporters say it would actually impose significant financial burdens on the public and private sectors.
But most House Democrats will likely oppose the proposed offset, which would close a loophole in the health care law that Republicans argue allows some middle-class Americans to qualify for Medicaid.