WASHINGTON -- Faced with a rebellion in his ranks over a short-term payroll tax cut extension passed by the Senate, House Speaker John Boehner on Sunday threatened to blow up the measure, a move that unravels a delicate compromise agreed to by the Senate and the White House.
During an appearance on NBC's "Meet the Press," Boehner (R-Ohio) said House Republicans oppose the Senate bill because it only extends the payroll tax cut for two months. He said the House will take action Monday to force changes to the deal brokered last week by Senate leaders, either by amending the Senate bill or passing a motion to force the House and Senate into a conference meeting. The White House had already given its blessing to the Senate deal.
"I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road," Boehner said. "It's time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences and extend this for one year."
Congress is running out of time to extend the tax cut and other provisions before they expire at the end of the year. And from the looks of it, Boehner's eleventh-hour demand stems from his gross miscalculation that House Republicans would sign-off on whatever the Senate passed.
Senate Democratic leaders said last week that Boehner told them to negotiate a deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), and then Boehner would build support for it in the House. During a sit-down with reporters after the Senate passed the bill, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he assumed Boehner had been informed about the terms of their deal.
"The assumption is that Sen. McConnell would not have passed this without getting the green light from Boehner," Schumer said.
On Sunday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said in a statement that when he met with Boehner and McConnell last week on the matter, "Speaker Boehner requested that Senator McConnell and I work out a compromise."
But Boehner's decision to let the Senate craft the deal infuriated rank-and-file House Republicans. During a private conference call on Saturday, many vowed to oppose the two-month extension, citing tax uncertainty and resistance to the idea of another protracted tax fight at the end of February. Instead they are calling for a year-long extension, and Boehner is now going to bat for their demand.
"Boehner is not riding this tiger; the tiger is riding him," a Senate Democratic Leadership aide told The Huffington Post.
If Congress doesn't act by the end of the year, a $1,500 middle-class tax hike will kick in, some unemployment benefits will run out and doctors' Medicare reimbursement rates will be slashed. And of course, all of this comes at a time when Congress and the White House are trying to get out of town for the holidays. President Barack Obama stayed behind on Friday as the First Family left for Hawaii for their annual Christmas trip.
As for the next steps, all eyes will be on the House when it comes into session on Monday. McConnell spokesman Don Stewart on Sunday lent support to Boehner's call for a conference committee to settle House and Senate differences.
"The House and the President both want a full-year extension," Stewart said in a statement. "The best way to resolve the difference between the two-month extension and the full-year bill, and provide certainty for job creators, employees and the long-term unemployed, is through regular order, as the Speaker suggested."
The biggest challenge of a yearlong extension is finding a way to pay for it. The House and Senate already failed to agree on a long-term deal because they couldn't settle on offsets. The current two-month extension costs $33 billion and is paid for via new fees on banks doing business with mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Assuming a yearlong extender package contains the same elements, it would carry a price tag of about $200 billion.
For their part, House Democrats are lining up to criticize Boehner for thwarting a critical bipartisan package -- and ruining people's holidays -- to appease the Tea Party.
"Speaker Boehner must bring the Senate-passed bipartisan bill to the floor immediately," said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). "The only thing standing in the way of a middle class tax cut is Tea Party Republicans in the House with their latest made-up crisis just days before Christmas."
Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, took it a step further, saying House GOP opposition to the bipartisan package is akin to a crime.
"This is a partisan middle class mugging by extreme House Republicans," Israel said. "At a time when hard-working families need every dollar in their pockets, House Republicans and their Tea Party extremists will have mugged $1,000 from the middle class."
UPDATE 4:51 p.m.: Later Sunday, White House communications director Dan Pfeiffer warned that there would be a significant tax hike on the middle class "if House Republicans refuse to pass this bipartisan bill" in the next 13 days.
"The bipartisan compromise passed in the Senate yesterday received 89 votes, including 39 Republican votes, and Speaker Boehner himself just yesterday called it a 'good deal' and a 'victory,'" Pfeiffer said in a statement.
"It’s time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people."
Sam Stein, Ryan Grim and Mike McAuliff contributed to this report.