MILLER: Senate’s silent night

Harry Reid is on vacation instead of negotiating a payroll-tax holiday

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Silent Hill. Harry’s left. All is dark - Senate side. The House voted simultaneously on Tuesday to disagree with the Senate two-month extension legislation for the payroll-tax holiday and send both chambers’ versions to a conference committee to negotiate a final deal.

House Speaker John A. Boehner immediately named his eight negotiators for the committee tasked with resolving the differences in the length of the tax holiday and unemployment benefits, offsets and reform provisions. The development led to a standoff between the Ohio Republican and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

Mr. Reid refuses to name conferees unless the House passes his short-term bill. On Saturday, the Nevada Democrat sent the Senate home on vacation until Jan. 23. Mr. Reid’s objection means Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell can’t name Republican negotiators because it requires unanimous consent.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, also won’t name her representatives. “I don’t think we should go to conference,” the California Democrat said on Monday evening. “We’re not going to that place.”

Neither side will budge. President Obama, who originally asked for a year-long decreased contribution to Social Security, jumped into the fray on Tuesday. Ignoring the fact that the House had referred the bill to conference hours earlier, he said, “I’m calling on the speaker and the House Republican leadership to bring up the Senate bill for a vote.” Right afterwards, Mr. Boehner turned the tables, telling reporters, “I need the president to help out, all right?”

Mr. Reid’s lengthy vacation is emblematic of the Senate inactivity this year. According to research by The Washington Times, the Senate has been the biggest failure of legislative productivity since at least 1947. The upper chamber only passed 124 bills this year. The previous low was 157 bills passed in 1995.

In December alone, the Democratic leadership used the Senate for show votes whose purpose was to help Mr. Obama’s re-election campaign. The upper chamber had 17 votes for real legislation that passed, but 14 roll calls for bills designed to fail but used as political stunts.

Politics and principle aside, there’s the practical matter of implementing a tax change for two months with only two weeks’ notice. The National Payroll Reporting Consortium, a nonpartisan trade association that represents companies that process payroll and filing employment taxes for more than 1.5 million employers, wrote to Congress on Monday.

The group told key tax-writing committee chairmen that a two-month holiday is just not technically possible. “There simply is insufficient time to implement this major change in withholding requirements,” the group’s president Pete Isberg wrote.

Senate Democrats seem to believe their passive-aggressive behavior will scare House Republicans enough to pass a short-term payroll tax break before the end of the year. But the optics of the closed Senate and its Democratic leaders missing from TV reports give the public-relations edge to the GOP.

The high-wire act shows that nothing in Washington is calm or bright this Christmas week.

The Washington Times

© Copyright 2014 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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