WASHINGTON -- While House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) held a news conference Wednesday demanding that Democrats return from vacation to extend the payroll tax cut, House Democrats called his bluff, taking to the floor to demand a new vote on the plan that has already passed the Senate.
With the House in session only for a "pro forma" moment, Reps. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) attempted to interrupt the Republican at the dais and seek unanimous consent to vote on the Senate's two-month extension of the payroll tax cut.
But after Van Hollen recited the Pledge of Allegiance, the chair, Rep. Michael Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.), brought down the gavel and walked out as Hoyer was trying to make his motion.
"You are walking away just as so many Republicans have walked away from middle-class Americans," Hoyer hollered.
The pair then called a press conference to highlight their attempt to forestall the expiration of the 2 percent tax break, which ends Jan. 1.
"I regret that the Republicans who say they're here to work -- we were on the floor to do our work -- and they walked out," Hoyer told reporters.
"The speaker of the House and the Republican leadership were AWOL on the floor of the House today. I didn't see any of them," Van Hollen said. "The speaker of the House, as we speak, he can walk down this hall into the chamber. ... We'll be here, every day, waiting for them to come to the floor of the House to actually take up this legislation."
The Senate bill in question passed the upper house on Saturday in a 89-10 vote, with Senate Republican leaders saying it was designed to also pass the House. But then the House GOP rebelled, voting to reject the Senate bill Tuesday and instead appoint members to a conference committee with the Senate to try to work out a yearlong deal.
House GOP leaders touted that committee as the solution Wednesday, while Democrats were attempting their floor stunt.
"We're here. We're ready to go to work. And we're hoping that Senate Democrats will appoint negotiators, come to the table and resolve these differences," Boehner said.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said his party fears that such a committee would serve as a "subterfuge" to kill the tax cut without anyone "leaving fingerprints." He added, "No one believes on our side that they really want to give a tax cut to the middle class."
"This is a device, a gimmick, a political charade if you will, to pretend support for something that they have historically over the last year opposed," said Hoyer.
House Republicans find themselves in a tough spot, with even several Republican senators coming out to demand they pass the two-month extension. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) highlighted a Wall Street Journal editorial that lambasted the House GOP for botching the matter.
While Wednesday's dueling events looked more like partisan theater, Hoyer and Van Hollen insisted their move was not just a stunt, but an important effort to make their case to the American people.
"We're not playing a game. We're prepared to have this bill come back and pass it. ... That's not a game," Hoyer said. "None of the 160 million people who are going to lose their tax cut think it's a game."
Also included in the Senate bill on the payroll tax holiday are an extension of unemployment benefits and a provision to stop a mandated 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors.
Hoyer admitted he did not really expect to prevail on his floor motion.
"I was not surprised that they walked away from resolving this issue on behalf of the American people," Hoyer told reporters.
MIchael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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