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Boehner, Reid Come to Deal on Payroll Tax Holiday

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call
Reporters question Speaker John Boehner during his news conference on the payroll tax cut impasse in Congress today.

Already out on a limb, House Republicans quickly found themselves on an island this afternoon after Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called for Boehner to bring the Senate-passed bill to the floor.

McConnell’s statement followed a groundswell of Republicans calling on the House to compromise, starting with some GOP Senators, moving to the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and eventually GOP strategist Karl Rove and other prominent Republicans.

Boehner addressed his Conference on a phone call for about 10 minutes this evening to lay out the deal but took no questions.

If any Member objects and demands a roll call vote on the matter, Boehner said the vote would happen next week. But if Members sign off on the legislation, the unanimous consent move would happen Friday. The Senate is likely to pass the extension by unanimous consent as soon as it is presented with the House product.

Still, frustration among the Republican rank and file indicates that the deal is not yet a sure thing.

Some in the GOP freshman class, whom Democrats blamed for instigating the standoff, called for compromise, but others were frustrated by the way the payroll deal shook out.

After the deal was announced, Rep. Dennis Ross sent a flurry of angry tweets expressing his distaste for backroom dealmaking among party leaders. In an interview with Roll Call, the Florida Republican said that he would not obstruct the unanimous consent vote but that he thought the House should have voted on the McConnell-Reid plan earlier this week after the Senate passed it.

“At least we would have let the process work as it was intended to,” Ross said. “Sure, the Speaker would have been upset because he did not have all his Republicans on board, and we would have had to do some damage control on that. Instead we tried to preserve ourselves by not having a ‘no’ vote on lowering taxes.

“It’s very frustrating,” he added. “And of course we get blamed by our own party, saying we just don’t know how Washington works.”

House Republicans will put forth a new two-month bill with technical changes 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 for Reid to pass the bill in the Senate by unanimous consent. As part of the deal, Reid would also name conferees to formally negotiate the long-term extension in the new year.

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.”

Despite the difficulties that lie ahead, Democrats were happy to take a victory lap.

“There was a small group in the House that basically believed in brinksmanship and paralysis of government until they got their way on just about everything. ... This was the first time they sort of had to wave the white flag,” Senate Democratic Vice Chairman Charles Schumer said in an interview on CNN.

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