Republicans plan House OK of payroll tax cut bill

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Obama said last month that work on the 1,700-mile pipeline, slated to run from Alberta, Canada, to Texas, needed to wait for studies on how to avoid damaging environmentally sensitive lands in Nebraska. The postponement would allow the White House to sidestep a pre-election dispute that has pitted business and labor unions against environmentalists.

Democrats complain that the bill does not do enough for unemployed people coping with one of the worst U.S. economies in decades. The bill prevents extra benefits for the long-term unemployed from expiring on Jan. 1, but would gradually wind down maximum coverage to 59 weeks, well below the current 99-week ceiling.

The measure would make other changes in the unemployment program, including giving states the right to administer drug tests to applicants for benefits.

The bill would retain this year’s 4.2 percent Social Security payroll tax rate paid by workers in 2012, preventing it from popping back up to its normal 6.2 percent on Jan. 1 if Congress doesn’t act. Obama got Congress to reduce the tax a year ago in an effort to leave more money in peoples’ wallets and prod the limp economy, and GOP leaders pushing to renew the tax break next year have had to overcome objections from some Republicans who say it has done little to revive the economy.

The legislation would also prevent an automatic 27 percent cut in Medicare reimbursements for doctors in January, a reduction that could force some to stop treating Medicare patients. Instead, their reimbursements would rise by 1 percent each of the next two years.

The measure includes a range of other provisions, including language blocking a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule curbing industrial pollution; preventing illegal immigrants and others who lack Social Security numbers from collecting the children’s tax credit; and stopping welfare recipients from using their electronic benefit cards to pay at casinos and strip clubs.

Republicans would largely finance their bill by extending the pay freeze on federal workers for another year through 2013, and forcing them to contribute more to their retirement plans; raising the fees the government-run Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge lenders to back their mortgages; gradually charging higher-income seniors more for their Medicare premiums; and selling portions of the broadcast spectrum.

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