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Daunting To-Do List Before Leaving D.C.

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Congress should extend unemployment insurance benefits before recessing for the year. If an extension is not passed, many jobless Americans will stop receiving the benefits in the new year.

With time running out before the end of the year, Congress will be hard-pressed to finish everything on its to-do list.

Senate Democrats and House Republicans are expected to clash over what to do first. The list is long: extending the payroll tax cut, extending unemployment insurance benefits for the long-term jobless, passing a raft of expiring tax provisions known as extenders, patching the alternative minimum tax, acting to prevent a cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients and passing a spending package made up of the remaining nine annual appropriations bills.

House GOP leaders are still developing their endgame, and they are set to consult with their rank and file this week.

Senate Democrats expect the House to start with legislation to prevent the cut in payments to doctors. Democrats see the “doc fix” as key to a deal on other priorities, particularly the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance.

“While both sides agree on the need to address the Medicare doctors’ issue, Republicans should not plan on taking care of the doc fix and leaving unemployment insurance and the payroll tax to wither,” a Senate Democratic leadership aide said.

Starting at the beginning of 2012, Medicare payments to doctors are scheduled for a nearly 30 percent cut and those collecting extended unemployment insurance will stop receiving those benefits.

Senate Democrats plan to hold a vote as soon as this week on legislation to reduce the payroll tax rate for employees to 3.1 percent for 2012 and to reduce it for employers. The $265 billion cost would be offset by a tax on those making more than $1 million a year. Currently, workers pay 4.2 percent, but that expires at the beginning of the year, reverting to the
6.2 percent rate normally paid.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) said Tuesday that Republicans would offer a proposal with an alternative offset. He declined to reveal how the offset would be paid for, but he said a majority of his Conference favors extending the payroll tax cut.

House Democrats on Tuesday indicated that extending unemployment benefits is a major priority and that they plan to put pressure on their GOP counterparts.

Democrats have scheduled a news conference Wednesday with Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and several unemployed workers.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer said Tuesday that “we ought not get out of here before doing that work.” 

The Maryland Democrat, Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (S.C.), House Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (Mich.) and Sens. Tom Harkin (Iowa), Jack Reed (R.I.) and Sheldon Whitehouse (R.I.) also will attend the Solis press conference.

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