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Updated: 3:42 p.m.
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) see a political peril in opposing extension of the president’s payroll tax holiday. The trouble is, their rank and file don’t seem to be getting the message.
While Boehner warned GOP Members on Wednesday that “if you guys think that not extending the payroll tax cut is politically advantageous, you’ve got to be kidding yourself,” those staunchly against extending the tax break charge that their leadership is wrong on the politics and should listen to the Members.
“I do think they’re misreading it. I just think they’re wrong on this. I think they’re wrong,” Rep. Jeff Flake (Ariz.) said today after a GOP Conference meeting during which members were presented with a broad plan to extend the payroll tax and several other items set to expire by year’s end.
Similarly, McConnell failed to keep his Conference united on a GOP alternative to extend the payroll tax cut in a vote Thursday night — two days after he predicted a majority of his Conference would support an extension of President Barack Obama’s payroll tax cut. Twenty-six Republicans voted against the Senate GOP plan, introduced by Sen. Dean Heller (Nev.) and backed by McConnell.
The tension between GOP leaders and their Members is likely to continue next week as both chambers try to work out agreements on a host of priorities set to expire by the end of the year.
Today, Boehner presented his Conference with a rough proposal that, among other things, would extend the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients. His offer included offsets similar to those in the Senate GOP’s rejected payroll tax plan, which called for trimming the federal workforce by 10 percent and means-testing programs such as Medicare, unemployment insurance and food stamps so that benefits are reduced for upper-income earners.
House Republicans exiting their Conference meeting said discussions were just beginning and that, like several other dicey subjects that have moved through the chamber this year, the payroll tax issue will require a heavy sales pitch from top leaders.
“There will be ongoing discussion with our Members on the make-up of this package,” the aide said. “There are some concerns.”
Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp maintained, “We don’t have a plan,” and that at the moment, “We just have some ideas we’re talking about. We’re still trying to reach an agreement, so we’re talking to some of our Members.”
Conservatives oppose even extending the payroll tax cut, but how many will stick together against doing so is unclear. Flake told reporters today, “Unless we have the courage right now to address entitlement reform, we shouldn’t be extending the payroll tax holiday. We don’t have the courage to do that.”