WASHINGTON -- The White House issued an unequivocal threat to veto the House Republican bill to extend the payroll tax cut Tuesday, condemning it as a political gambit larded with controversial, unrelated provisions.
"With only days left before taxes go up for 160 million hardworking Americans, H.R. 3630 plays politics at the expense of middle-class families," the White House said in a Statement of Administration Policy, arguing that the bill breaks with the bargain on spending that leaders cut just last summer during the bitter debate over the debt limit.
The White House also argued that the House bill "seeks to put the burden of paying for the bill on working families, while giving a free pass to the wealthiest and to big corporations by protecting their loopholes and subsidies."
The bill, cobbled together by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), is paid for in part by freezing the pay of federal workers and cutting their retirement benefits. The GOP bill also rejects the Democratic model of hiking taxes on millionaires, while raising some $31 billion by means testing Medicare recipients, which will raise costs for individuals earning as little as $85,000 a year.
Besides extending the 2 percent payroll tax break, the House measure also is full of "poison pills", including the repeal of parts of the health care reform law, the deregulation of boilers and incinerators, and the shortening of unemployment benefits from 99 weeks to 59. It also requires the president to speed up a decision on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which is intended to run from Canada to Texas.
"Instead of working together to find a balanced approach that will actually pass both Houses of the Congress, H.R. 3630 instead represents a choice to refight old political battles over health care and introduce ideological issues into what should be a simple debate about cutting taxes for the middle class," the White House argued, before promising a veto. "This debate should not be about scoring political points. This debate should be about cutting taxes for the middle class."
Boehner has argued previously that his measure will do everything the president wants.
"The president says that the American people can't wait for jobs. Clearly, if we pass this bill today, we will be taking the first big step toward creating jobs in America, and it will be time for the United States Senate to act," he said. "We've got a reasonable, responsible bill that really will help the American people, really will help create jobs. "
Republicans have repeatedly touted the Keystone project, which the White House has delayed over environmental concerns, as a project that will create 20,000 jobs.
But other provisions could be still tougher pills for Democrats to swallow, who see the provisions as nothing more than the GOP's efforts to cater to a Tea Party base. Ending EPA regulation of many boilers and incinerators, for instance, could cause an estimated 20,000 people to die sooner every year. And ending extended unemployment benefits while unemployment is still high could leave millions of people without an income.
"I'm very disappointed in what the Speaker has done to his payroll tax proposal to get Tea Party votes," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) declared on the Senate floor Tuesday. "Speaker Boehner had to add ideological candy coating to his bill to get rebellious, rank-and-file Republicans on board."
"The White House threatened to veto its top legislative priority," said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel, reacting to the administration's veto declaration. "In terms of governing, this amounts to legislative malpractice. After the House passes the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, the Democrats who run Washington will have to act. The Senate can take up our bill and amend it, or they can pass their own bill. But they can't continue to shirk their responsibility to govern. America can't wait."
The House was expected to vote on the bill Tuesday evening.
Michael McAuliff covers politics and Congress for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
Nine Poison Pills In The House Payroll Tax Cut: