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House and Senate negotiators were close to a final agreement Wednesday night on a sweeping package to avoid a tax increase on millions of Americans and a lapse in jobless benefits, hoping to put to bed months of talks just two weeks before the deadline.
It remained unclear whether the still-tentative deal, even if signed by all of the conferees, would be accepted by a wide majority of Members.
Heading into Wednesday evening, however, conferees were attempting to set up a meeting to formally sign on to the package.
Before all the specifics were released, Members on both sides, even in leadership, groused about provisions in the bill. Democrats took issue with a provision that would cut some federal worker pensions to fund the jobless benefits. Such a move could put Members from Maryland and Virginia — including House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and payroll tax conferees Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) and Sen. Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.) — in a tough spot.
"A lot of us are concerned," about taking money from federal worker pensions, Assistant Minority Leader James Clyburn (D-S.C.) said. He added that such a provision could keep him from voting for the bill.
One Senate Democratic aide indicated that Members were trying to replace the provision with another that would still attract the requisite amount of Republican support to pass the bill.
Republicans, meanwhile, had a host of complaints about plan, including the fact that the $100 billion payroll tax cut extension would not be offset and that the bill would not contain sought-after reforms to the unemployment insurance system.
Some Republicans in the House have already vowed to vote against the measure, and as more details emerged about the bill, more were joining the chorus.
Leadership hopes to bring the bill to the floor Friday. And despite the complaints and threats to vote against the bill, leaders remained hopeful that the measure could pass with a truly bipartisan vote.
Rep. Jack Kingston, who said he was leaning toward voting against the bill on Wednesday afternoon, said he thinks the measure will pass.
"I suspect we'll get there," the Georgia Republican said. "Once you have a conference report ... you can afford to lose 60 people on either side."
Senate Democrats were waiting to see whether House Republicans could clear the package before responding to the agreement or providing Members of their own caucus with details of the deal.
As of Wednesday afternoon, rank-and-file Senate Democrats had not been officially briefed on the agreement.