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House Democrats Continue Payroll Holiday Push

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call

House Democrats today continued their push to pressure Republicans on a payroll tax cut extension, calling on their GOP counterparts to cut short the recess and employing attention-grabbing floor tactics during a pro forma session.

In a press availability following the brief pro forma session, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) continued with her Caucus’ line of attack unveiled Thursday, saying House Democratic conferees were in town and ready to work.

The conference committee was formed at the end of last year to negotiate a long-term deal on the tax cut, unemployment benefits and payments to Medicare doctors and secured passage of a stop-gap bill set to expire by March.

“I don’t know what the Republicans are afraid of. Where are they? They’re telling us that they were in late in December so they can’t be here in January? What is this, one month on, one month off?,” Pelosi said.

“We were told with great vehemence yesterday that the Congress was in session,” the California Democrat continued. “That’s why we went to the floor today to call upon the conferees to get to work.”

In this regard, House Democrats tried to twin two of the new year’s biggest issues to date: the extension of the expiring package and a series of recess appointments made by President Barack Obama earlier this week. Republicans have said that Obama’s appointments of Richard Cordray to head a new consumer protection agency and three others to the National Labor Relations Board were not kosher because Congress was not in recess, but rather in pro forma session.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), said, “We have appointed conferees and expect to go to conference and finish our work. In the meantime, if House Democrats really [want] to help the American people, they should urge their Senate colleagues to take up and pass the 27 House-passed bipartisan jobs bills awaiting action.”

Democrats spoke on the floor for nearly 20 minutes after freshman Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.) gaveled the four-minute pro forma session closed.

The move was reminiscent of a similar protest by House Republicans in the summer of 2008 urging Democrats to address high gas prices, but with each party’s role reversed. At the time, Pelosi did not bring the House back to Washington. When asked about this, Pelosi said, “They danced on the floor, they stayed and they were on television as you will recall. But the fact is, right now, we have massive unemployment in our economy. Perhaps people in Washington don’t notice,” Pelosi responded.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) said that when she came to the Capitol today, “I thought it was a work day.”

A reporter then pointed out that Edwards had presided over pro forma sessions when Democrats were in power. She was then asked if she anticipated those days to be work days when she drove from her Maryland district to the Capitol.

“For me, as a Member of Congress representing the people of the 4th Congressional district, every day is a work day,” she said.

Pelosi was also asked whether she was demanding Senate Democrats come back to town, since the Senate is also in pro-forma session, with most Senators back at home.

Pelosi said her charge for lawmakers to return to Washington also included Senate Democrats. “We’re asking all of the conferees” to come back to Washington, she said.

The Minority Leader seemed to indicate that her Democratic colleagues had also convened a meeting, but Senate sources could not confirm that was the case. The four Democrats have been in conversation over recess, according to leadership sources, and their task had been getting informal briefings from Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) about previous deficit reduction efforts and the menu of offsets available to help fund the full-year extension.

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