Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) today put in place the final members of a conference committee charged with negotiating an extension of the payroll tax cut and other programs set to expire in late February.
McConnell named Senate Minority Whip Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.); Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho), a member of the Senate Finance Committee; and Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) chairman-elect of the Republican Policy Committee. In addition to being the No. 2 Republican leader in the Senate, Kyl also serves on Finance.
“These three Senators will help lead our efforts to focus on the areas of agreement between the House and Senate approaches to these expiring provisions,” McConnell said in a release.
Along with the payroll tax, the committee will negotiate the extension of the unemployment insurance and the Medicare physician fee fix. Both the House and Senate passed respective extension bills, and the committee will reconcile the differences.
The programs were set to expire at the end of the year, and in the week before Christmas, a high-stakes game of chicken between House Republicans and Democrats in the Senate and White House threatened all three programs. But House Republicans finally gave up on their attempt to force a yearlong extension before the end of this year, and Congressional leaders agreed to a two-month extension to give them additional time to work out an extension through the end of 2012. The two-month deal included a provision inserted by House Republicans that requires President Barack Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline before the end of February. Senate Republicans added the provision to the deal after the White House said it would delay making a decision on the project until after the 2012 elections.
“Both the Senate and House produced bills that require the President to quickly make a decision on whether to support thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs through the Keystone XL pipeline, and were fully paid for without raising taxes on job creators,” McConnell said.
Republicans have resisted the push to extend the payroll tax cut — a key Obama administration policy win — and have pushed for more comprehensive reforms to the tax code.
Indeed, McConnell stressed that Republicans will continue to push for tax reform, which they contend is the best way to grow the economy and raise revenue, rather than increasing taxes. Democrats have called for wealthier Americans to pay slightly higher taxes, but GOP Senators have repeatedly filibustered bills to do just that.
“As we move into the new year, it’s crucial for everyone to realize that, once this temporary extension is behind us, the larger goal is to move beyond a discussion of temporary assistance, and toward a bipartisan plan to get our economy moving again, reform the tax code, and preserve and protect entitlement programs for future generations.”
House Democrats on the panel include, Ways and Means ranking member Sander Levin (Mich.), House Democratic Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.), Budget ranking member Chris Van Hollen (Md.), Rep. Allyson Schwartz (Pa.) and Energy and Commerce ranking member Henry Waxman (Calif.).