In a news conference today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose statement Thursday in favor of a short-term payroll tax holiday extension pressured House Republicans to approve it.
“Everything we do around here does not have to wind up in a fight,” Reid said. “This is a new day,” he continued, before noting that “everything is on the table” in the second round of negotiations. He pointed out that Democrats could revisit the millionaire surtax, which they pulled off the table in brokering the short-term deal, as a potential offset for a one-year extension.
“I’ve talked to Senate Republicans, plural, who think that there should be a fair tax on rich people,” Reid said.
Earlier this month, Republican Susan Collins (Maine) introduced a bill with Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) that would levy a surtax on millionaires with a carve-out for small-business owners.
Though the fight over the more modest bill ended anticlimactically, with both the House and Senate approving it without objections, there is no guarantee this second round of talks will be any easier than the first. Last week, leaders had not been able to agree on how to pay for the full-year package, which came with a price tag of about $190 billion. The nearly $40 billion two-month extension is largely paid for by increasing fees on mortgages refinanced through Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Moreover, many of the named conferees for the formal talks were members of the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction, which also failed as a result of arguments over how to reduce the budget and whether to raise taxes.
Reid announced his appointments to the conference committee in a news conference after Senate action on the bill: Sens. Max Baucus (Mont.), a member of the super committee, Benjamin Cardin (Md.), Bob Casey (Pa.) and Jack Reed (R.I.).
Reid said he was “very disappointed” in the conferees selected by Boehner because several of them had stated objections to extending the payroll tax holiday at all.
The most complicating factor for the success of the talks, however, is not the composition of the group, but the environment in which it must work. As the 2012 elections draw nearer, and leaders worry about their vulnerable Members, agreement will be more difficult to reach. And Congress will have to take care of many other issues, from averting a Federal Aviation Administration shutdown at the end of January to potentially negotiating the Bush-era tax cuts in a lame-duck session.
For now, though, leaders seem relieved just to go home for the holidays and give credit to their colleagues across the aisle. Reid especially thanked Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), whose statement Thursday in favor of a short-term deal pressured House Republicans to approve it.
“Sen. McConnell did what I thought was right for the country,” Reid said.