- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

Underscoring the division among congressional Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell Thursday called on House Republicans to accept a two-month extension of payroll tax cuts and end the stalemate that would hike taxes for millions of workers on Jan. 1.

“The House should pass an extension that … prevents any disruption in the payroll tax holiday or other expiring provisions, and allows Congress to work on a solution for the longer extensions,” said Mr. McConnell in a statement.

The Kentucky Republican helped to broker the bipartisan Senate legislation last weekend, but HouseGOP leaders have been holding out for a one-year deal, saying it would provide certainty for employers.

President Obama, who strongly back the Senate plan, seized on Mr. McConnell’s remarks Thursday in a bid to increase the pressure on House Republicans to give in.

“This is not just my view,” Mr. Obama said at the White House. “This is exactly what the Republican leader of the Senate said we should do. Democrats agree with the Republican leader of the Senate. Has this place become so dysfunctional that even when people agree to things, we can’t do it?”

But Speaker John A. Boehner, Ohio Republican, and his troops showed no outward signs of backing away from their desire for a deal lasting a full year.

“We’re fighting to do the right thing,” Mr. Boehner told reporters on Capitol Hill. “It’s time for us to sit down and have serious negotiations.”

Mr. Boehner even called the president Thursday and offered to host Mr. Obama’s economic team for talks aimed at a one-year deal, but he said Mr. Obama rebuffed him.

Mr. McConnell’s comments were aimed at finding a way out of the deadlock that has persisted since Saturday, when House Republican served notice that they wouldn’t accept the Senate’s bipartisan agreement. On Tuesday, the HouseGOP voted to go into negotiations with the Senate over the payroll tax. But with the Senate already having left town for the holiday break, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, said he wouldn’t consider a deal until the House first passes a short-term measure to give all sides more time to talk.

In conciliatory tones, Mr. McConnell noted that both bills call for a quick decision by the Obama administration on a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, an extension of unemployment benefits and Medicare reimbursements for doctors.

“There is no reason why Congress and the president cannot accomplish all of these things before the end of the year,” Mr. McConnell said. “House Republicans sensibly want greater certainty about the duration of these provisions, while Senate Democrats want more time to negotiate the terms. These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both. Working Americans have suffered enough from the president’s failed economic policies and shouldn’t face the uncertainty of a New Year’s Day tax hike.”

He also called on Mr. Reid to appoint conferees, something the Senate’s top Democrat has resisted.

Without any obvious movement by House Republicans or the president, however, the pressure on Mr. Boehner was growing from Republicans around the country. Some conservatives fear the GOP has been losing the public-relations war by allowing Mr. Obama to portray himself as the champion of cutting taxes in the debate.

The president gladly played that role Thursday, appearing at the White House with about a dozen people who say the tax increase would hurt their household budgets. They included a man from Rhode Island who said the loss of $40 from his paycheck represents three days’ worth of home heating oil, and a man from Wisconsin who said he would have to cut down on the number of car trips each week to visit his father-in-law in a nursing home.

“These are the things at stake for millions of Americans,” Mr. Obama said. “They matter to people — a lot.”

Mr. Obama blamed a “faction” of House Republicans — a reference to tea party conservatives — for holding up the tax relief.

“I am ready to sign that compromise into law the second it lands on my desk,” Mr. Obama said. “The only reason it hasn’t landed on my desk is because a faction of House Republicans have refused to support this compromise. Enough is enough. The people standing with me today can’t afford any more games.”

Former GOP House Speaker Newt Gingrich, a Republican candidate for president, strongly defended the stand of House Republicans in the stalemate in an interview Thursday with the Washington Times-affiliated “America’s Morning News” radio program.

He said the HouseGOP bill was far more workable for businesses and the economy than the two-month extension the Senate passed, and said the Senate’s insistence on its version was an “act of arrogance people should be condemning.”

No one in Washington, Mr. Gingrich added, is enhancing their image as the fight drags on.

“This makes us look, frankly, like Italy on its worst days,” he said.

Brendan Buck, a spokesman for Mr. Boehner, said House Republicans agree with the president on the importance of avoiding a tax increase on working families.

“That’s why the House is seeking to provide that tax relief for a full year, rather than only two months,” Mr. Buck said. “It’s disappointing the president says he agrees with the House’s desire for a full-year extension, but has still declined to negotiate with Republicans to make it a reality.”

Mr. Boehner said there are numerous flaws with the Senate bill, including the paperwork difficulties for employers that would come with such a short-term extension.

Last week, the House passed a bill to extend this year’s 2-percentage-point payroll-tax holiday through 2012, to extend but overhaul unemployment benefits and to extend full payments to Medicare doctors by two years.

Senators, battling over how to pay for the tax break, couldn’t reach a similar long-term agreement. Instead, on Saturday they passed a two-month extension of those provisions.

That Senate bill passed 89-10, but Mr. Boehner said that the legislation wasn’t enough and that the House would insist on negotiations to work out a final agreement between the House and Senate.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said she won’t name negotiators to the conference committee to bargain over the final details, arguing that the only solution is to pass the Senate version.

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