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House Rejects Senate Bill, Asks for Conference on Payroll

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

House Republicans voted today to block a bipartisan Senate deal to extend a popular payroll tax cut for an additional two months and sought to instead force a conference committee with the Senate before heading home for Christmas vacation.

Though Members declined to directly give the Senate’s bill an up-or-down vote, the House passed a resolution 229-193 to reject the Senate language and go to conference.

The move is an effort by House Republicans, who lost the messaging upper hand this week, to put the heat back on the Senate by portraying its short-term extension as irresponsible policy not worthy of consideration. Leadership wants to force the Senate to return to Washington, D.C., and hash out a compromise.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) have already said they will not appoint conferees, insisting that the bipartisan deal cut between Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) should be passed to give Congress a chance to finish its work on a full-year extension.

But that position could force a last minute showdown before the tax cut expires next week, and Republicans are banking on public pressure to force Democrats to concede and come back to the table to negotiate a new deal.

“I don’t think anybody in this building or across America thinks legislating in two-months increments is good policy,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.) said. “We’re going to go about our work, and we’re going to work here and ensure that Congress does pass a bill that ensures families understand what their tax posture is and they’re going to be afforded relief for the next year.”

Democrats, however, have indicated that they intend to keep hammering House Republicans — particularly the freshmen and the conference’s conservative tea party wing — as intransigent for not taking up a Senate compromise that passed 89-10, with 39 Republican Senators voting in favor.

House Republicans’ rejection of the Senate bill is “an obviously partisan, narrow ideological framework, contrary to what many of their Senators are saying,” Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.) said. “I think they’re delaying and putting at risk the continuation of the middle-class tax cut, of the access to physicians by Americans on Medicare and they’re putting at risk the unemployment insurance.”

Democrats also objected to the way Republicans brought the bill to the floor. Instead of conducting an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, the chamber voted to go to conference, effectively rejecting the Senate language without forcing Members to abandon a key GOP principle and implicitly vote against a tax cut.

The question of how the apparent breakdown between Boehner and McConnell occurred continues to be a topic of significant speculation with few satisfying answers.

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