WASHINGTON -- Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said he expects House Republicans to reject a Senate-passed payroll tax cut package later Monday and then head into an eleventh-hour conference to hammer out a new, longer-term deal.
During brief remarks to reporters, Boehner said Americans are "tired of Washington's short-term fixes and gimmicks" and that the two-month deal passed by the Senate, and backed by the White House, would not last long enough.
"We oppose the Senate bill because doing the two-month extension instead of a full year extension causes uncertainty for job creators," Boehner said. "I expect that the House will disagree with the Senate amendment and instead vote to formally go to conference. ... And I expect the House to take up legislation that reinforces the need to extend the payroll tax relief for a full year rather than just two months."
By rejecting a two-month extension, Boehner is making a potentially costly political bet that Senate Democratic leadership can and will be brought back to the negotiating table. Congress is running out of time to extend the payroll tax cut, among a handful of other provisions, before they expire at the end of the year. If Congress doesn't act in the next 12 days, a $1,500 middle-class tax hike will kick in, some unemployment benefits will run out and doctors' Medicare reimbursement rates will be slashed.
It stands to reason that Boehner would take much of the blame for this happening. But the pressures coming from within his caucus are equally immense. Members either believe they can get deeper cuts in exchange for a longer extension or they simply don't want to re-litigate the payroll tax cut battle in two months' time.
The early response to Boehner from top Democratic aides was akin to shoulder shrugging. Lawmakers would not return to Washington either to merge the respective bills of each chamber or vote on the House version, one aide said. On Monday morning, meanwhile, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer called it "inconceivable" that House Republicans couldn't simply whip the 40 votes needed to pass the Senate's version, especially after 39 Senate Republicans voted for it on Saturday.
Boehner dismissed the idea he was ever on board with a two-month extension, despite Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) saying Sunday Boehner told him last week to cut a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), at which point Boehner would build support for it in the House.
"We expressed our reservations about what the Senate was doing," Boehner said of his talks with Senate leaders. "I made perfectly clear to Sen. Reid and Sen. McConnell sometime mid-last week that I would not enter into negotiations with them until the Senate produced a bill. The Senate produced a bill; we expressed our reservations."
Top House GOP aides, meanwhile, suggested that even if they tried to get the 40 votes needed for the two month extension, they wouldn't succeed.
"Why would we ask members to do something that is bad policy that we do not agree with?" said one top GOP leadership aide. "Why settle for bad legislation when there is an alternative? The stated goal for the president, for Harry Reid and for House Republicans is a year-long extension. There is no excuse to be on vacation for 2 weeks until we exhaust every option to achieve that goal."
Hoping to frame his move as a normal turn in legislation-crafting, Boehner said on Monday that he didn't think the House and Senate were too far apart to craft a deal. The House previously passed a yearlong payroll tax cut plan and Boehner called that plan "a reasonable bill" that should be discussed in conference.
But that bill passed the House along party lines and is loaded with "poison pills" that virtually ensure no Democratic support, specifically regarding how it would be paid for. Indeed, the reason Senate leaders signed off on a two-month extension in the first place was because they couldn't find ways to cover the cost of a bill that went longer.