A majority of conferees signed on to the payroll tax conference report today, setting up floor votes as soon as Friday in the House and Senate.
The agreement caps a week of fits and starts in the talks, where the high-level negotiations were nearly derailed several times as Members struggled to find appropriate ways to pay for the package.
Conferees were all smiles as they flocked to House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp’s (R-Mich.) Capitol office to sign the agreement.
“It’s a done deal. It’s done,” said Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.), co-chairman of the conference committee, giving two thumbs up to the cameras.
Under the agreement, a popular payroll tax break would be extended for the rest of 2012, as would unemployment insurance benefits, and a scheduled pay cut to doctors who treat Medicare patients would be averted.
All 13 House signatories and all four Senate Democrats signed the agreement, but notably absent were Senate Republicans, who have said they were left out of the process and would abstain from signing the report, a fact that could complicate passage in the chamber.
The measure may come to the Senate floor Friday, but leadership will have to secure some Republican support to advance it, Senate Democratic Conference Vice Chairman Charles Schumer said.
“This conference report will not pass unless we get some Republican votes,” the New York lawmaker added. “I can’t imagine that our Republican Senate colleagues would let this die, but we’re waiting for them still to step up to the plate. None of them have said yet that they would vote for this.”
House leadership was still weighing whether to waive its rule to post bills online for three days before bringing them to a vote. If it does, the measure could come to the floor Friday.
The unanimous approval of the package by House conferees signals that the measure may find success in that chamber. Rank-and-file Members on both sides have snubbed the measure already, and it is possible that neither side could pass the measure by itself. But the package may be able to find a bipartisan middle ground.
Conferee Rep. Chris Van Hollen, a late holdout objecting to cuts to federal worker pensions, signed on to the deal after he and conferee Sen. Benjamin Cardin, both Maryland Democrats, were assured the pension cuts would only apply to newly hired federal workers.
“When you’re putting in place new rules, they should apply to new federal employees,” Van Hollen said.
Nevertheless, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, the man tasked with wrangling support from the House Democratic Caucus, stated this afternoon that he will vote against the measure.
“This proposal is an unacceptable solution,” the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. “We must stop targeting these hardworking men and women.”