Maryland Democrats Sen. Benjamin Cardin and Rep. Chris Van Hollen announced today their support of a deal to extend a payroll tax cut, jobless benefits and Medicare doctors payments, less than 24 hours after feverishly reworking polices that would affect federal workers they represent.
The two conferees, along with House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, also a Maryland Democrat, were involved in intense, late-night negotiations to amend a provision that would have cut pension benefits to federal workers.
Cardin and Van Hollen said in a joint statement that they would not block the conference report process from moving forward, but they expressed disappointment that federal workers were being used to offset the extension of crucial benefits. The duo did secure a change to the provision so only new federal workers would have to pay more into their pension funds while current workers would be grandfathered in under current law.
Cardin and Van Hollen received calls Wednesday night from President Barack Obama, who has made approving the package a top priority of the White House.
“It’s important to move forward on a payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans, unemployment insurance for people who are out of work through no fault of their own, and support for doctors who serve patients on Medicare,” Cardin and Van Hollen said in the statement.
They continued: “We are pleased that we were able to ensure that this agreement has no negative impact on current federal employees, but we still strongly oppose the provision that raises $15 billion to help offset the cost of this package from future workers. Unemployment insurance benefits are paid out during true economic emergencies and should not require offsets. We want this process to move forward. We will not let others find excuses to extend the gridlock. But it is inherently unfair that the primary offset found for extending unemployment insurance came from additional sacrifice from other middle-class families rather than the very wealthiest Americans who can afford to pay more but continue to pay less.”
The two men were in constant contact as top negotiators tried to close out a deal and had a conference call today before issuing the statement. Cardin’s influence was especially important, as it became clear no Senate Republicans would support the agreement. A majority of conferees in both chambers is needed to move a conference report to the floor in either chamber.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.