WASHINGTON -- House Republicans on Tuesday rejected a Senate bill that would have prevented a payroll tax cut from expiring on New Year's Day, saying they wanted a year-long extension or no extension at all.
House Republicans accomplished that with a convoluted motion to reject a Senate compromise that would have extended the 2 percent payroll tax break for two months, voting 229 to 193 to send the measure to a conference committee.
Seven Republicans voted with Democrats, and no Democrats crossed the aisle. They were Reps. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-Wash.), Tim Johnson (R-Ill.), Walter Jones (R-N.C.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.).
Senate leaders also were hoping for a year-long deal, but sources told The Huffington Post that Republicans and Democrats could not agree on how to fund about half of the $200 billion needed to pay for the bill for a full year. The measure would also extend unemployment insurance benefits and would prevent a 27 percent cut to Medicare payments to doctors with a "doc fix" provision. Those also expire Jan. 1.
So instead, the Senate voted 89 to 10 on Saturday for a two-month extension to buy time to bridge the gap. The upper chamber then recessed, apparently confident that Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had the go ahead from House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to cut a deal.
But Boehner's members rebelled against the bill, even with 39 Senate Republicans backing it, and scrambled to oppose it. At first, the GOP had set a vote on the bill, but late Monday changed it to an unusual motion to reject the Senate compromise. If they had held the first vote, and it had passed, the bill would have gone straight to President Obama.
But under the new version, House leaders accomplished their goal of sending the bill to a conference committee instead, even though Senate and House Democratic leaders insist they will not appoint members to the committee.
Democrats argued that the parliamentary gymnastics were just a way to prevent a clear vote on a bill that they believe would pass.
"The Republican majority in this House of Representatives is refusing -- it is refusing to allow a vote in this House on the Senate bipartisan compromise," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.). "What are they so afraid of? It is very clear that the Republican leadership is afraid that the same bipartisanship that took place in the Senate will take place right here in the House... otherwise we'd have a vote on it."
Republican leaders insisted they were preventing a vote to pass the Senate deal because approving a bill for just two months creates uncertainty. They cited a payroll business trade organization that said a two-month extension is problematic for electronically processed payrolls.
And they contended that the sides were "90 percent" of the way to a deal, even though $100 billion separated the GOP and Democrats in the Senate. The original version of the House bill also adds a string of "poison pill" riders on top of the differences over funding. Democrats initially wanted to tax the rich to pay for the bill, but dropped that surtax in the compromise.
"We need to come together in a responsible manner to find common ground," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.).
Cantor and others argued that the Senate had only been interested in going on vacation.
"We stand ready to work over the holidays to get this done," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas). "That's the question, are you willing to work over the holidays, or are you not willing to work over the holidays," Hensarling said, suggesting that Democrats need to watch Schoolhouse Rock to figure out how Congress' conference committees work.
Democrats didn't buy it, and none budged to the GOP side, even though at least a handful usually do.
"If you're so sure of your argument, why not vote on the Senate bill?" asked Rep, Sander Levin (D-Mich.), the top Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee. "Because everything you said is a smokescreen," he said.
The House could still hold a separate vote directly on the Senate bill if GOP leaders relent.
However, they seemed intent on trying to make the president or Democratic leaders blink on their position, and restart negotiations.
Democrats insisted they would not budge, leaving the Senate bill as the only standing proposal.
"It is unconscionable that Speaker Boehner is blocking a bipartisan compromise that would protect middle-class families from the tax hike looming on January 1st - a compromise that Senator McConnell and I negotiated at Speaker Boehner's own request," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement just after the vote.
"I would implore Speaker Boehner to listen to the sensible Senate Republicans and courageous House Republicans who are calling on him take the responsible path, and pass the Senate's bipartisan compromise," Reid added. "I have been trying to negotiate a yearlong extension with Republicans for weeks, and I am happy to continue doing so as soon as the House of Representatives passes the bipartisan compromise to protect middle-class families, but not before then."
President Obama stood by the Senate's position, speaking from the White House soon after the vote.
"Let's be clear: Right now the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1. It's the only one," Obama said, arguing that the Senate put aside disagreements on the remaining issues and "went ahead and did the right thing."
"I need the speaker and House Republicans to do the same. Put politics aside, put aside issues where there are fundamental disagreements, and come together on something we agree on. And let's not play brinksmanship. The American people are weary of it."
Moments after Obama spoke, Boehner said no, adding that Obama should call the Senate back in.
"I need the president to help out," Boehner said, when informed that the president had asked for his assistance. "Our House GOP negotiators are here and are ready to work," he added. "Now it's up to the president to show real leadership."
"We have done our job," Boehner said, and named conferees to the as-yet uncalled conference.
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Nine Poison Pills In The GOP Payroll Tax Extension Bill: