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House GOP Rallies Around Pipeline Rider, Freezing Feds’ Pay

House Republicans today are rallying behind a year-end extenders package that will be on the floor next week.

While the rank and file dismissed a similar proposal last week, Members sung praise on a package presented by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) at a closed-door Conference meeting that includes extensions of the payroll tax cut, long-term unemployment benefits and heads off a cut to doctors’ Medicare payments.

Offsets in the package were tweaked from last week’s proposal, but the rallying point for Members appeared to be the inclusion of language to expedite approval of the Keystone XL oil pipeline project. It also would continue to freeze federal worker pay and limit the federal government’s ability to replace workers who quit or retire.

“You know, the president says that the American people ‘can’t wait’ on jobs. Well guess what? We agree wholeheartedly with the president,” Boehner said following the Conference meeting. Boehner said the project would “immediately” provide “tens of thousands of jobs.”

President Barack Obama said Wednesday he would reject any package to extend the payroll tax break that included “extraneous” provisions, including those concerning the proposed oil pipeline between Canada and the United States. Earlier this year, Obama delayed consideration of whether to approve the pipeline.

His position become a rallying point for the GOP. Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan (Ohio) emerged from the Conference meeting heaping praise on Boehner’s plan. Asked if he would support it, Jordan said, “Frankly, the fact that the president doesn’t like it makes me like it even more.”

The package also includes another rider popular with Republicans that would reduce Clean Air Act regulations for boilers. It extends the payroll tax and changes the unemployment insurance program, including reducing the number of weeks recipients receive benefits from 99 to 79 and then finally to 59.

The two-year Medicare “doc fix” is paid for by making cuts to the health care law, which Rep. Phil Gingrey said was well-received.

“I thought the tone of the conference was great,” the Georgia Republican said, adding that Boehner “doesn’t just want 218, he wants 242. I, for one, will be one of those votes.”

As the GOP Conference was meeting, House Democratic leaders met with Obama at the White House.

“I am disappointed that Republicans insist on playing political games with these critical policies. I have said repeatedly that Democrats are willing to work with Republicans to move these policies forward as long as unrelated, controversial policies are not attached,” House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a release.

Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra, who did not attend the meeting, also reiterated the opposition Democrats have to including riders such as the Keystone project in the extenders measure.

Republicans are holding “hostage the jobs portion of this package and the deficit reduction portion of this package for all these policy riders, these social agendas,” the California Democrat said.

In a rare but brief appearance in the White House briefing room, Obama said he would not leave for Christmas — and Congress should not leave — until the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance benefits were extended.

Flanked by two flat-screen TV countdown clocks tracking the life left on the expiring measures, Obama accused Republicans of making these issues about him and not about the Americans they affect.

"I do not expect Congress to go home unless the payroll tax cut is extended and unless unemployment insurance is extended. It would be wrong for families but it also would be wrong for the economy as a whole," Obama said. "This is not about me."

However, the president has been campaigning on the tax holiday as well as against Congressional dysfunction in general. And with Congress' approval rating hovering around a bottom-basement 9 percent, the strategy has been effective.

Obama met with House Democratic leaders today, a day after he met with their Senate counterparts and discussed pushing one-year extensions for all the expiring measures.

Meanwhile, the Senate prepared for another pair of dueling votes this afternoon on Democratic and Republican payroll tax cut extension plans.

Meredith Shiner contributed to this report.

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