The Senate’s two-month payroll tax extension is dead on arrival in the House. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, made that perfectly clear Sunday morning as he said that Congress will have to negotiate a deal closer to the House-passed one-year extension before members leave for the holidays.
“Well, it’s pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill – it’s only for two months,” Boehner said on NBC’s Meet the Press. “If you talk to employers, they talk about the uncertainty. How can you do tax policy for two months?”
Boehner’s comments came a day after a conference call among House members in which even seasoned moderate Republicans joined the roster of tea party-inspired freshman in vehemently opposing the bill. Or, as one senior House GOP aide put it, "If you're a fan of the Senate bill, the situation is not good. That will never pass and almost no one in the conference wants it."
The widespread loathing for the bill is driven by both legislative and political concerns.
Republicans believe as a matter of policy that a two-month extension creates the very kind of economic uncertainty they have railed against for nearly three years; they have no interest in keeping taxpayers and Medicare-participating doctors on edge, wondering if the policy will be extended in two months.
House GOP members also know the bill wouldn’t play out well for them politically, House GOP sources said. They see themselves getting crushed by a short-term outcome now and continued finger-wagging from Obama on extending the payroll tax cut, which would allow Democrats to appear more aggressive on tax cuts than Republicans, House GOP sources said.
And it’s no secret the American Medical Association opposes the two-month "doc fix" to protect doctors from a scheduled 27 percent cut in reimbursements for Medicare beneficiaries – a scenario that would create intense lobbying pressure until February, something House Republicans want to avoid.
And while it is frequently asserted the House GOP problem is between Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., a more insidious tug-of-war appears to be the culprit in this case. Boehner and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. – usually closely aligned, as in the case of the debt-ceiling debacle this summer – are apparently at odds over the end-of-year package. Boehner never signaled to McConnell in their private talks last week that he would accept the two-month deal being negotiated with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, aides said.
Boehner is now confronting a very real sense among rank-and-file House Republicans that McConnell either rolled Boehner or treated the House bill so dismissively in the end-game negotiations that the House GOP must rebel to assert its legislative power and preferences.
Rather than pass the Senate bill – which President Obama embraced Saturday -- Congress should assemble a formal joint House-Senate conference to hash out a deal in regular order, Boehner said Sunday.
“We’ve got to two weeks to get this done,” Boehner said. “Let’s do it the right way.”
Going into those negotiations, House Republicans are determined not to forfeit what they see as a huge concession from Senate Democrats: the decision to drop the millionaire surtax as the means of financing the payroll tax cut extension. They don't want to give that up now after having remained unified and winning it, despite intense and at times unnerving political heat.
A senior House GOP aide familiar with the emerging strategy and ever-rising rank-and-file antipathy to the Senate bill summarized the situation:
"We have to get out of the cul-de-sac of the Senate only being able to produce the lowest common denominator and then trying to force a terrible product on the House," the aide said. "Our members are fed up with that and are ready to have a fight if that's what it takes to get a good product."
Boehner on Sunday suggested that compromise shouldn’t be difficult to reach, the historical record of this Congress notwithstanding.
“I think if you look at the House-passed bill, we did everything the president asked for,” Boehner said. “We paid for this, offset it with reasonable reductions in spending. Ninety percent of those reductions, frankly, the president agrees with.”
Asked if they could reach a compromise on the extension package by Christmas, the Speaker responded, “How about tomorrow?”
The article "Boehner: House Opposes Senate Payroll Tax Bill" first appeared in the National Journal.