Feb. 14, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Congress Pursues Extenders Accord

Bipartisan Agreement on Appropriations Bills Might Still Stall Amid Payroll Tax Cut Melee

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

The House on Tuesday takes the first shot at what Members hope will become a bipartisan agreement on tax provisions affecting millions of Americans, even as the legislative calendar winds down.

Leaving Washington, D.C., last week united behind their proposal, House Republicans will attempt to pass their version of a payroll tax cut extension Tuesday with little help from Democrats.

Their “extenders” package includes an extension of long-term unemployment insurance benefits and halts cuts to Medicare reimbursements for doctors. It also includes a provision that would fast-track the Keystone XL pipeline project and would cut off some funding for the health care reform law — non-starters for Democratic leaders.

On Monday, Speaker John Boehner defended inclusion of the pipeline proposal, saying, “If the American people want jobs, this is as close to a shovel-ready plan as you’re going to see.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said the GOP’s extenders bill cannot pass his chamber, setting the stage for a battle that could stretch into the weekend and beyond.

Boehner dismissed charges that the GOP extenders bill is little more than a political ploy given opposition within the Senate. When asked whether he thought it had a realistic chance of passage, the Ohio Republican said, “I think we have a good shot. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be in there.”

The battle over the payroll tax cut might also spill over into the attempt to wrap up fiscal 2012 appropriations, which before Monday was assumed to be on a glide path to passage.

Several sources suggested Monday that Senate Democrats could attempt to keep the appropriations omnibus package in legislative limbo until an agreement can be reached on the extenders package. If this is the case, and with four days before the current spending bill runs out, it appears lawmakers are positioning themselves to flirt with government shutdown yet again.

But while each side would attempt to blame the other in the seemingly unending game of getting the quick political score, it’s unclear which would win such a battle. If the House were to send an appropriations package to the Senate, Democrats could say that they did not want to pass the bill until Republicans also sent an acceptable compromise on extenders.

The message from Democrats would be that Republicans were holding the government and a middle-class tax break hostage to special interest riders.

Republicans, in turn, could tell Democrats that they had sent both bills to the Senate and that by refusing to move until they get what they want, Democrats were the ones risking a shutdown.

President Barack Obama already has threatened to reject a package that comes to his desk with “extraneous” provisions, such as the Keystone XL pipeline proposal. And the Christmas holiday is creeping up on lawmakers and aides who want to go home.

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