Congress settled in for an old-fashioned staring contest today with House Republicans on one side and the White House and the entire Senate on the other over extending a popular payroll tax cut set to expire Jan. 1.
The standoff marks an ostensibly ugly end to an ugly year of bitter partisan fighting, gridlock and general acrimony in Washington, D.C., that has sent Congress’ approval ratings tumbling to record lows with no end in sight.
The Senate already adjourned for the year after passing a two-month extension to provide more negotiating time, but House Republicans rejected that bill today and sought to force a conference committee to forge a full one-year deal — before sending the bulk of their Members home for the Christmas holiday.
With the Democrats so far refusing to appoint conferees and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) essentially missing in action since the Senate closed up shop Saturday, Speaker John Boehner’s decision to appoint his committee members was, at least for now, little more than a symbolic gesture designed to pressure Democrats.
One of the Ohio Republican’s picks, Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), said the negotiators’ game plan is unclear at this point, except that the group will stick around Capitol Hill to put heat on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). The group had plans to meet this evening.
“I’m certainly planning to stay, or at least certainly not leaving today,” Brady said. “We’re going to continue to call on Senator Reid ... to come to the table with us.”
House Democrats, however, have followed Reid’s lead and dug in, not just refusing to appoint conferees but also calling the House Republicans-only conference committee a sham and promising to keep doing so until the House passes the Senate-passed bill.
“They’re obviously using this as a ploy to prevent the payroll tax cut extension,” Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said. “It rings a little hollow to say they’re opposing a two-months’ extension and they want a full year when they were opposed to a full-year extension just a couple of months ago.”
Boehner’s negotiators include two committee chairmen: Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton (R-Mich.), both of whom were recently on the Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction.
Hillary Rodham Clinton, center, along with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, right, and Annette Tilleman-Dick, left, wife for former Rep. Tom Lanots, D-Calif. Clinton was honored with the Tom Lantos Human Rights Prize during a ceremony last week at the Cannon House Office Building. Previous winners include the Dalai Lama and Elie Wiesel.
Each year since 1990, CQ Roll Call has reviewed the financial disclosures of all 541 senators, representatives and delegates to determine the 50 richest members of Congress. This year's report, derived from forms covering the calendar year 2012, shows it took a net worth of $6.67 million to crack the exclusive club.