Senators and most House Members might be away from Washington, but the political theatrics over a stalled extension of the payroll tax cut kept rolling on Capitol Hill this morning.
As Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) was convening a largely symbolic meeting of his Members chosen for a yet-to-be-constituted conference committee, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) made an equally operatic attempt to try to bring a bill to the floor during today’s pro forma session.
Neither stunt was ultimately intended to produce results, but rather both were part of an escalating rhetorical war being waged between House Republicans and the rest of the government.
Both sides are hoping to break the other in the next two or three days. Democrats want Boehner to concede defeat and allow a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut to pass to allow the two sides to negotiate a full one-year deal.
It is unlikely Boehner could deliver such a vote at this point given his Conference’s demands for a fight, and he and his top lieutenants are hoping to shame Democrats and Senate Republicans into agreeing to a conference committee on a one-year deal.
And at this point, neither side is backing down.
“We’re here, we’re ready to go to work and we’re hoping that Senate Democrats will appoint negotiators, will come to the table and resolve these differences,” Boehner said, flanked by his negotiators at a half-empty table. “All we’re asking for is to get the Senate Members over here to work with us to resolve our differences so we can do what everybody wants to do, extend the payroll tax cut for the next year.”
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said a deal could be worked out in the 10 days left before the measures expire. “The differences between us are not very great,” Cantor said, repeating a consistent GOP talking point.
But in a letter to Boehner today, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) disagreed, calling on the Speaker to pass the Senate bill immediately and reiterating that he will not negotiate with the House until it does so.
“As these weeks have made clear, there remain differences between our parties over how to fund and implement these programs that will take longer then a few days to reconcile,” Reid said. “Once the House of Representatives acts on this immediate extension, we will be able to sit down and complete negotiations on a longer extension.”
House Republicans have taken fire not just from Democrats but from Senate Republicans and even the conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) tweeted today that he agreed with a scathing editorial directed at the Republican approach: “WSJ is right on the mark here.”
The editorial in today’s paper stated that Republicans actually scored a win with the inclusion of language to expedite the Keystone XL pipeline, “But now Republicans are drowning out that victory in the sounds of their circular firing squad. Already four GOP Senators have rejected the House position, and the political rout will only get worse.”
Democrats are seizing on Republicans’ previous hesitation to extend the payroll tax cut holiday.
Rep. Tom Reed, a freshman Republican whom Boehner appointed to the conference committee, acknowledged the GOP would prefer tax cuts to come elsewhere.
“If I had my choice, I would love to see us take care of this relief on middle class Americans, taxpayers, through income tax reduction, but the president and the Senate are adamant that this has to be done with a Social Security tax reduction and if that’s where they are, we’re willing to meet them there,” the New Yorker said. “I have concern about the Social Security trust fund, but overall, if the Senate and the president want to agree with me and the Republicans that lowering the tax burden on all Americans is good economic policy. ... I agree with that, so I’m willing to find common ground, and if it means we find it on the payroll tax holiday, then I’ll stand with them.”
After their failed attempt to bring the Senate’s two-month extension to the floor, Hoyer and Van Hollen blasted Republicans saying that Reed and others on the House GOP negotiating team are disingenuous in their calls to extend the payroll tax holiday.
Hoyer dismissed Boehner’s calls for a conference committee altogether, noting that “the irony is that the Speaker has appointed five [Members] ... all of whom have said at one point or another they oppose” an extension of the payroll tax cut.
Van Hollen was equally harsh, charging that “the Speaker of the House and Republican leadership were AWOL on the House floor today. ... It’s a real tragedy that the House Republican leadership didn’t show up on the House floor today.”
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.