In a major tactical shift, House Republican leaders Monday said they would sign off on a payroll tax cut extension that is not paid for, marking an attempt to both pressure Democrats and get the issue behind them.
Bruised from a months-long battle to pay for the $100 billion payroll tax holiday, Republicans are acknowledging that they would rather give in on a straight extension than fight on for spending cuts that Senate Democrats will not accept.
In doing so, they could also deprive President Barack Obama and the Democrats of a political weapon that has been used to great effect against Republicans: that the GOP is holding up a tax cut for 160 million Americans.
A bill from GOP leaders could come to the House floor as soon as Wednesday. Though Democrats immediately groused, Republicans are hoping they will find such an offer impossible to shun.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement that although she supports an extension that is not offset, she is concerned about decoupling the proposal from an extension of long-term unemployment insurance benefits and a proposal to halt a scheduled cut to reimbursements for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
"There is no reason all three of these priorities cannot proceed at the same time as both the House and Senate agreed," Pelosi said in a statement.
Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.), a conferee, said decoupling the proposals is "completely irresponsible."
Nevertheless, Rep. Chris Van Hollen said that despite his concerns about breaking up the package, he believes there would be widespread support within the House Democratic Caucus for just a payroll tax holiday extension.
"I support a straight payroll tax cut extension," said the Maryland Democrat, a conferee who is close to Democratic House leadership. "If they've changed their position, with respect to offsetting the payroll tax cut as they've proposed, that would be a positive development."
GOP leaders must also get their conservative Members on board, however. The House Republican Conference will meet at 6 p.m. to discuss the plan, and aides acknowledge it likely will not thrill them.
Still, Republican aides said, the Conference will probably back the plan. Giving GOP lawmakers cover, Heritage Action for America released a statement Monday stating that "it is past time to move beyond this issue" and that this move would "deny obstinate Senate Democrats the ability to play partisan games."
House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.), co-chairman of the conference committee, said in a statement that he supports the GOP proposal and that conference committee talks will continue.