House Republicans this afternoon began showing increasing signs that they might consider passing a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday.
According to a GOP source, the House Republicans will put forth a new two-month bill to extend the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and Medicare "doc fix" that would include a tweak to the original payroll language. The plan then would be for the House to approve the new short-term legislation and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to pass the bill in the Senate by unanimous consent. As part of the deal to approve the two-month stopgap, Reid also would name conferees to formally negotiate the long-term extension in the new year.
If everything goes without a hitch, the president could get the bill Dec. 30, when the Senate will be in a pro forma session.
A Democratic aide explained that the nature of the technical change would be to address the concerns of payroll companies about the logistics of a two-month tax holiday: "Instead of a cap, there will be a tax to claw back any excess 'tax break' collected in the two months."
Cracks started showing in the GOP facade in the wake of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s proposal this morning that the House should pass the two-month extension in exchange for the Senate agreeing to begin negotiating a full-year deal promptly.
Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, began asking GOP Members today how they’d like to proceed, according to two House Republican sources.
A notice for a conference call with Members said it was to “gain input” from Members on the “ongoing debate.” One GOP aide said Price was “taking the temperature of Members today on taking the two-month deal.”
Price exited a meeting in Speaker John Boehner’s office saying House Republicans were continuing to demand that Senate Democrats appoint conference committee members.
The meeting was called to determine a response to McConnell. But there were other signs that the rank and file was getting restless, particularly after days of withering criticism from outlets as varied as their Senate colleagues to the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.
Meanwhile, some inside the House GOP Conference clamored to party leadership to quickly find a face-saving exit strategy.
Lisa Wright, a press secretary for Rep. Roscoe Bartlett (R-Md.), said in an email to several dozen GOP leadership staffers that Republicans could face severe political repercussions from their stance.
The email cited anecdotal opposition to the GOP’s position from a “77-year-old constituent” who is a veteran and worked on the Armed Services Committee for 27 years.
“Republicans are NOT PLAYING THIS RIGHT,” Wright wrote, quoting the constituent. The email was sent to staffers for Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), aides to the conservative Republican Study Committee and aides to a number of members of the House Armed Services Committee.
“Working people and SENIORS ARE BOTH UPSET ------- it’s the seniors’ opposition that will hurt GOPers most,” Wright wrote, adding in an email that the woman’s views represented “a lot of current and retired federal government workers” in Bartlett’s district.
Meanwhile, two freshman House Republicans called on their leadership to compromise and pass the two-month payroll tax cut extension, showing that the GOP class that adamantly supported fighting the Senate’s short-term plan may come around to it after all.
Rep. Rick Crawford (Ark.) sent a letter to Boehner calling for a vote on the two-month extension, while Rep. Sean Duffy (Wis.) issued a statement calling for “GOP Leadership to immediately bring up the Senate’s two-month extension for an up or down vote.”
“I’ve said all along I’d be willing to support a two-month payroll tax cut extension if that was our only option. The Senate’s refusal to work with the House to hammer out the differences in our bills before Christmas has left us with few other options,” Duffy said in the statement. “Middle class families deserve a Congress that will rise above the squabbling and ensure their taxes don’t go up right after Christmas.”
In a strongly worded letter to Boehner, Crawford, who as recently as Tuesday issued a statement calling the Senate’s bill “irresponsible,” wrote that his Arkansas constituents want Congress to work together.
“We are now in a position that requires all options to be on the table, that requires Republicans to not only demand a willingness to compromise, but to offer it as well,” Crawford wrote. “More often than not an ‘all or nothing’ attitude produces nothing. An ‘all or nothing’ attitude is not what my constituents need now. My constituents need a Congress that is willing to put all options on the table, even those that are not yearlong plans, to avoid higher taxes on more than 160 million Americans.”
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.