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Payroll Conferees May Meet Privately

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman said payroll tax cut conferees might have to meet privately to work out an agreement and get the legislation passed before the end-of-the-month deadline.

Yet the unemployment insurance issues don’t get to the heart of the partisan disagreements, and the spectrum offset is just a drop in the bucket toward paying for the whole package.

Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman said he agreed that with an end-of-month deadline, conferees might have to meet privately to hash out a deal.

“The meetings have been productive, but it’s time to move now to another stage,” the California Democrat said. “Now that we’ve stated our positions clearly, albeit sometimes with passion, we have to recognize that we have to reach common ground and get this legislation passed.”

Sen. Bob Casey echoed the sentiment a day earlier, telling reporters after Tuesday’s conference committee meeting that he has had some Member-to-Member discussions and would like to have more private talks.

“If all we’re going to do is have a very formal process, I think we’re limiting ourselves,” the Pennsylvania Democrat said. “I think that’s important, to have those [one-on-one] discussions to try to better understand what the other side is proposing or what’s preventing them from agreeing with you.”

Still, the conferees are under a tremendous amount of pressure, and leadership on both sides seems innately distrustful that the other wants to strike a deal.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) indicated Tuesday that he thinks Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) might be slow-walking a proposal, a sentiment that conferee Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) echoed Wednesday.

Reed said Democrats think they can put political pressure on Republicans by moving slowly.

“Maybe there’s a calculation that’s been made on their side, from a political point of view, that they come out better,” he said. “I was hopeful coming over here today that I would hear that the Senate had put that [unemployment insurance offer] in writing and delivered that to us. We have yet to hear a response to that, even just a position as to where they stand on UI.”

Meanwhile, including a provision to spur the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline in a payroll package seems almost an afterthought. Republicans pushed hard to include it at first, but the Energy and Commerce Committee passed a Keystone XL bill Tuesday that would place the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in charge of granting the permit.

Still, Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.), a conferee, said he will keep pushing for the project.

“I’d like to see it in anything that goes to the floor,” he said.

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