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Differences Remain on Paying for Payroll Tax Cut

Scott J. Ferrell/CQ Roll Call File Photo

Speaker John Boehner (Ohio) and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) released a joint statement today urging swifter action from the conference committee and playing up the perceived division among Democrats that has surfaced since Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) announced last week he would be working on separate backup legislation.

“If Senate Democratic leaders will not allow their conferees to support the bipartisan spending cuts passed by the House, they have a responsibility to tell the American people what spending cuts they are willing to support,” Boehner and Cantor said. “If they aren’t willing to do either, then the American people will be right to question Senate Democratic leaders’ seriousness about actually getting a full-year payroll tax cut enacted.”

For their part, Democratic conferees have been reluctant to criticize leadership’s moves or openly question the hands-off approach of the administration.

“We’re still working. I don’t want to speculate,” Casey said. “I think there’s going to be a lot of inside baseball.”

The full committee is slated to reconvene Tuesday morning. A GOP aide indicated that Republican conferees will push for some of the offsets contained in the House-passed bill to extend the payroll tax holiday for a full year. Some of those proposals could include cuts to federal employees’ retirement contributions and a pay freeze for federal workers, spectrum auctions, and cuts to Obama’s health care reform law.

Another major issue is unemployment insurance reforms. The House Republicans suggested sweeping changes to the current system, and Democrats have only made a modest proposal on the less controversial issues.

At a hearing last week, House Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (Mich.), the top Republican on the conference committee, asked Democrats for an offer on the larger jobless benefits issues. Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) said his side was prepared to make that offer but did not designate when it would be made. GOP aides said late today they still have not received the offer.

It’s possible the committee could compromise on unemployment insurance.

“We are prepared to go much further on some of these issues, but we have got to see some movement on the other side,” Cardin said. “We’re in favor of reforming [unemployment benefits], but let’s reform it in ways that help states that need it the most.”

Daniel Newhauser contributed to this report.

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