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New Sense Of Optimism on Spending, Payroll Tax

Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call

Updated: 11:23 a.m.

After days of acrimonious back and forth on how to wrap their year-end work, the two Senate leaders expressed optimism today at being able to finish both a year-end appropriations bill and an extension of the payroll tax cut in the next few days.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) took to the floor to tout their “useful discussions” and their confidence that they are close to reconciling their legislative differences.

“There are a few issues still outstanding but they’re really small in number,” Reid said, before warning House Republicans about moving forward on their own omnibus spending bill without Senate Democratic support.

House Republicans have already moved to pressure Democrats to wrap up the spending bill by Friday, when current government funding runs out. Senate Democrats have been withholding their signatures from the omnibus conference report in an attempt to force Republicans to cut a deal on extending the payroll tax holiday. Republicans called their bluff early this morning when they filed the bill without formal Democratic sign-off and set up a Friday House vote.

“I think that would be a mistake,” Reid said of the House GOP bringing the bill to the floor. “What we should do is the conference report, and I think that’s the direction we’re headed today. I hope that we can come up with something that would get us out of here at a reasonable time in the next few days.”

McConnell was positive too — a stark contrast from even one day ago, when the leaders sparred openly on the Senate floor over how to proceed on both the spending and payroll tax measures.

“We’ve been in useful discussions about how to wrap this session up,” McConnell said. “We hope to be able to pass a combination of appropriation bills and we are working hard to resolve the remaining differences on the payroll tax extension and the related issues that are important to both sides.”

“We’re confident and optimistic we’ll be able to resolve both on a bipartisan basis,” the Republican leader added.

Sources said Reid and McConnell agreed Wednesday night to have their staffs try to work out a compromise on the payroll tax extension bill. Twenty-two Senate Republicans supported the GOP version of the extension last week and all 53 Democrats have registered their support for an extension — a count that could give the two leaders a filibuster-proof majority for a bill if they can reach agreement.

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