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GOP Leaders Reject Payroll Tax Deal

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call
Speaker John Boehner (above) seemed to be aligned with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on the payroll tax cut package the Senate passed Saturday, but on Sunday Boehner called the two-month deal “kicking the can down the road.”

The disconnect between House and Senate Republican leaders was apparent this weekend, but it was unclear whether McConnell moved on the deal knowing House GOP support was tenuous or whether Boehner overpromised and then had to reverse course after facing an outraged caucus Saturday.

Friday night, when McConnell and Reid told their respective conferences about the agreement, McConnell was optimistic about the bill’s prospects and almost gleeful of the position Republicans had put themselves in.

When asked Friday night whether he had received assurances from Boehner that the short-term extension would pass, McConnell did not give an explicit “yes” but seemed to indicate things were in good shape.

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to do well in the morning, and obviously I keep the Speaker informed as to what I’m doing,” McConnell said as he left the Capitol.

The 48-hour tectonic shift is indicative of either a miscommunication between Congress’ two top Republicans or a miscalculation on Boehner’s part that he would be able to rally enough votes. Boehner had told McConnell and Reid to come up with a solution.

In a Sunday interview, Rep. Tom Cole gave McConnell credit for winning concessions on the Keystone XL pipeline project language included in the deal. But the Oklahoma Republican said that because Keystone has been such a focal point in the debate, Senate leaders likely thought the House would vote for any plan that included it.

“In that regard he got a great victory, but the two-month thing is what really sticks in the throat of our people,” Cole said. To send the House this bill is “either tone-deaf or it’s simply because they were weary and wanted to go home.”

Senate Democrats appeared in no hurry Sunday to call their Members back to take up whatever bill the House might produce this week. Instead, they touted the broad bipartisan support for their own legislation. Eighty-nine Senators voted in favor of the two-month deal that would extend current law on payroll, unemployment and the Medicare doc fix, including every Member of the GOP leadership team.

“If Speaker Boehner refuses to vote on the bipartisan compromise that passed the Senate with 89 votes, Republicans will be forcing a thousand-dollar tax increase on middle class families on January 1st,” Reid said in a statement.

White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer said in a statement Sunday: “If House Republicans refuse to pass this bipartisan bill to extend the payroll tax cut, there will be a significant tax increase on 160 million hardworking Americans in 13 days that would damage the economy and job growth. After months of opposition, we are glad that Republicans were finally showing a willingness to not raise taxes on middle class families. As the President said yesterday, it is inexcusable to do anything less than extend this tax cut for the entire year, and Congress must work on a one year deal. But they should pass the two month extension now to avoid a devastating tax hike from hitting the middle class in just 13 days.”

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