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Congress Passes Payroll Tax Cut Deal, Shuts Down for Holidays

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
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.

After weeks of bitter partisan bickering, Congress today approved a two-month extension of a payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the Medicare “doc fix,” setting up another round of debate that could begin as soon as next week.

The Senate went first this morning, passing a measure by unanimous consent that would deem the package of extenders as passed when the chamber received the legislation from the House. It also appointed conferees to a conference committee that has been tasked with hammering out a full-year extension. The House passed its measure shortly after by unanimous consent, effectively sending it to President Barack Obama for his signature.

Freshman Rep. Rob Woodall (R-Ga.) was originally scheduled to preside over the chamber for today’s session, he said, but Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) decided he would do it himself.

Boehner declined to answer questions exiting the chamber. But as a crush of reporters followed him into Statuary Hall, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), there for a Democratic news conference, reached out his hand to Boehner and said, “You’re a good man. I feel for you.”

Many House Republican freshmen expressed deep reservations about the deal, some of whom even threatened to catch planes back to Washington to object to today’s unanimous consent agreement. They eventually backed down, allowing the deal to pass.

“I saw tears in his eyes. I saw a man who has deep feelings for human beings and this institution and was alone today,” Cohen said of Boehner.

House Democrats largely declined to twist the knife into their Republican colleagues at their news conference, heralding a victory only for the “American people.”

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declined to answer questions about the Democrats’ stance heading into negotiations for the full-year payroll tax cut extension.

Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), the dean of the House, said he was “hoping this is a sign of good things to come” and that he hopes rank-and-file Republicans “will learn to follow their leader,” Boehner.

Unlike his House colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did get into some of the specifics of the negotiations ahead. He said after clearing the package by unanimous consent that he expects conferees to start negotiations on a full-year extension in the week after Christmas.

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