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Updated: 8:35 p.m.
Top negotiators today have a tentative deal to extend the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and a fix to Medicare doctors’ payments, and Congressional leaders began to speak in terms of “when” and not “if” an agreement would be reached.
It was a surprising turn for a Congress that has been marked by intransigence and last-minute betrayals — even between colleagues of the same party — when it comes to reaching legislative compromises.
Weary from protracted floor fights and a campaign by President Barack Obama against Capitol Hill dysfunction, House Republicans on Monday withdrew their demands to fully pay for the $100 billion payroll tax holiday. That gave new oxygen to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to craft the details of a deal that required them only to offset the cost of the “doc fix” and jobless benefits.
“We still have some outstanding items, but ... we’re very close to completing them,” Camp said this evening.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the package has some victories for the GOP, but ultimately compromising is “the only way Democrats are going to allow this to happen.”
“Chairman Camp was able to get some reforms in UI and to manage some pay-fors on the issue of unemployment insurance,” the Virginia Republican said.
Earlier in the day, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) hinted at what was coming.
“It’s pretty clear, at least to me, that the payroll tax is going to pass,” Reid told reporters.
“I’m hopeful and cautiously optimistic that the House will work with us so that the conference can be completed to include that,” Reid added. “So I’m not going to get into hypotheticals to what happens, but right now, we’re awaiting to see what we get from the House, and then we’ll decide what we have to do in the foreseeable future after that.”
Confidence around an agreement, however, is not the same as a deal being locked in, even if the principals were close. The same history that made today’s events surprising could also make them tenuous. House Republican leaders were set to brief their Members late this evening, and Democrats and Republicans nervously waited to see whether rank-and-file GOP Members would go along with the tentative agreement.