Congressional Republicans were in disarray today, with Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) denying he ever agreed to a deal he commissioned Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) to strike and the party’s rank and file taking cross-chamber intraparty potshots.
Republicans have come full circle from last week, when they seized the upper hand in messaging by accusing Senate Democrats of playing shutdown politics.
Now, instead of claiming victory on the payroll tax cut compromise and heading home, many House Republicans are attacking the 39 GOP Senators who voted for the agreement McConnell crafted with Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) — and the Kentucky Republican himself for striking it.
“Mitch McConnell did an ineffective job negotiating with Harry Reid,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said. “They get distracted with their bingo night, so you can’t blame them for getting this one wrong. I totally disagree with them. I think they wimped out.”
Senate Republicans, meanwhile, especially those vulnerable in the 2012 cycle, began coming out against their House counterparts today, challenging the chamber to pass their bill.
“There is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out,” Sen. Dean Heller said. “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, jeopardizing seniors’ access to health care or threatening unemployment insurance.”
It would be difficult for Congress to approve a conference report before the current payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and Medicare “doc-fix” provisions expire. It could take the Senate as many as nine days to appoint conferees because of potential procedural hurdles. And conferences usually take days for negotiators to reconcile positions.
House Republicans, nevertheless, contend their Senate counterparts are punting tough issues.
At a news conference today, several House GOP freshmen expressed their disdain for the Senate product and called for a full-year extension. Asked what they thought of the overwhelming Senate vote — it passed 89-10 Saturday — the first-term Republicans had one common sentiment: disappointment.
“To our colleagues in the Senate GOP, I’m very troubled by their actions that they took and they demonstrated with that 89-to-10 vote,” Rep. Tom Reed (N.Y.) said.
“This was a cop-out,” Rep. Allen West (Fla.) echoed. “I’m disappointed in them. I can’t understand why they would. It violates every pragmatic principle that we all stand for.”
Still, GOP Sens. Scott Brown (Mass.), Dick Lugar (Ind.), Olympia Snowe (Maine) and Susan Collins (Maine) joined Heller in reiterating their support for the short-term deal.
Lugar, appearing on MSNBC, pointed to the stress in the House GOP Conference.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.