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Parties Near Deal on Payroll Tax Cut Extension

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call File Photo
Rep. Tom Price said today that he thought any deal to extend the payroll tax holiday without paying for it would lose significant Republican support — even, potentially, his.

One Republican aide familiar with the talks sought to emphasize the conservative highlights, saying, “The underlying policies are flawed and a far cry from the pro-growth policies America needs. It is worth noting that: The plan provides temporary tax relief for American families and takes off the table a false political attack the president and Congressional Democrats wanted to use all year long — that somehow Republicans were standing in the way of a middle-class tax cut. There are no job-killing tax hikes to pay for more government spending. All government spending is fully offset with spending cuts and government reforms.”

But some of the details of the deal could anger Senate Democratic liberals, such as a provision that would reduce the number of weeks an unemployed person could receive jobless benefits from 93 to 63 in most states.

The Republican aide said the deal included a provision requiring jobless beneficiaries to search for a job as well as language allowing states “to drug screen workers seeking a job that requires a drug test or who lost a job due to a failed drug test.”

Conferee Rep. Tom Price said before the meeting that he thought any deal to extend the payroll tax holiday without paying for it would lose significant Republican support — even, potentially, his.

“I’d have to see the specifics,” the Georgia Republican said. “It’s been problematic. As you know, I’ve been supportive of making sure all of these items are paid for.”

And freshman Rep. Dennis Ross, an early critic of the payroll tax holiday, said he couldn’t see himself voting for any extension of the payroll tax holiday. Instead of voting on principles, he said, the plan is about the electoral politics of 2012.

“I’m very skeptical that this can be something that I can support,” the Florida Republican said. “We just want to get it off the table as a distraction, and when we start doing that, we should start stepping back from the table and reassessing our principles.”

If a larger deal does not have the GOP Conference’s blessing, sources say, House Republican leaders could move forward with their backup plan to bring forth a stand-alone, unpaid-for payroll tax cut extension that does not include the doc fix or jobless benefits. Given that those votes had been scheduled for Wednesday, they could provide a window into how much GOP backing they could count on for the larger deal as well.

Either way, Republicans may need substantial Democratic support for both measures in order to secure passage.

House conferee Fred Upton (R-Mich.) added that he hopes the deal can be wrapped up Wednesday and be on the House floor later this week.

Before talk of a deal broke today, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) announced that Democrats would back the stand-alone payroll tax cut bill floated by Republican leaders.

“We have long proposed bringing this tax cut to the floor without payfors and House Democrats will support it so that taxes are not raised on 160 million working Americans, but this should not be a substitute for the work of the Conference Committee,” Pelosi said in a statement.

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