- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 22, 2011

In a very public retreat, House Republican leaders late Thursday agreed to a two-month extension of payroll-tax cuts, a move that will prevent Social Security taxes from rising on millions of workers Jan. 1.

“Middle-class families and small businesses are struggling and they’re making sacrifices,” said House Speaker John A. Boehner, the Ohio Republican whose troops had been holding out for a one-year extension of the tax relief. “I think this agreement will help our economy.”

The deal, approved by the Senate last weekend, also provides for an extension of unemployment benefits, for a speedier decision by the Obama administration on a Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline, and for renewed Medicare reimbursements for doctors.

“With today’s agreement between the speaker and leader Reid, working Americans can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that their taxes will not go up at the end of the year and that the president will have to finally decide on whether to move forward on a pipeline project that would create thousands of American jobs,” said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, referring to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat.

The House is expected to vote on the agreement Friday by a procedure called “unanimous consent,” which presumes that none of Mr. Boehner’s restive conservative lawmakers will object to it.

Asked whether he had received assurances in a conference call late Thursday that no Republican lawmakers would object, Mr. Boehner replied, “I don’t know that, but our goal is to do that by unanimous consent.”

President Obama, who had been pressuring House Republicans to accept the deal, hailed the development.

“This is good news, just in time for the holidays,” Mr. Obama said. “This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy and create new jobs. This is real money that will make a real difference in people’s lives.”

Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, called the development “a victory for middle-class taxpayers over tea party politics.”

“Even though this tax cut is only temporary, this breakthrough could have an enduring impact if it helps tame the faction of House Republicans that habitually tends toward brinksmanship,” Mr. Schumer said. “We now turn our attention to extending this tax cut for a full year, and we urge our Republican colleagues to seek common ground with us on how best to pay for it.”

Mr. Boehner’s announcement appeared to end a nasty partisan stalemate that had persisted since Saturday, when the Senate voted in bipartisan fashion for the short-term extension. House Republicans immediately served notice that they would not go along with the two-month deal, saying it would create uncertainty for businesses.

On Tuesday, House Republicans voted to go into negotiations with the Senate over the payroll tax. But with the Senate already having left town for the holiday break, Mr. Reid said he wouldn’t consider a deal until the House passes a short-term measure to give all sides more time to talk.

Democrats then portrayed House Republicans as the opponents of tax cuts, and they appeared to be helped in that effort by Mr. McConnell, who urged his House colleagues Thursday to accept the two-month agreement.

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

After five days of partisan pounding by Democrats, Mr. Boehner held a conference call with his caucus about 5 p.m. Thursday. Unlike Saturday, when the speaker solicited opinions from Republican lawmakers, this time Mr. Boehner reportedly informed his troops that he had agreed to the deal offered by Mr. Reid.

Asked why he had not allowed lawmakers to give their views this time, Mr. Boehner replied, “I don’t set up the conference calls. We got a lot of members with a lot of opinions. We have fought the fight, the good fight.”

Asked whether he had “caved” and if this week was the worst of his speakership, Mr. Boehner answered, “Sometimes it’s hard to do the right thing. And sometimes it’s politically difficult to do the right thing. It may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world, but I’m here to tell you, I think our members waged a good fight.”

The speaker tried to put the best face on the deal by pointing out that he had secured an agreement from Senate Democrats to fix a “new complex reporting burden” for small businesses to save them from needless extra paperwork. He also noted that Mr. Reid had agreed to appoint conferees to a panel that will try to work out a yearlong extension of the payroll-tax cuts as soon as possible.

The Senate also must sign off on the pending agreement, presumably by unanimous consent Friday.

Mr. McConnell played a central role in resolving the stalemate, first negotiating the bipartisan agreement in the Senate and then calling on House conservatives to end their holdout.

Mr. Obama seized on Mr. McConnell’s remarks Thursday in exerting more pressure on House Republicans to approve the short-term agreement.

“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?”

Mr. Boehner 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. 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.

Pressure had been growing throughout the week on Mr. Boehner from Republicans across the country. Some conservatives fear the party has been losing the public relations war by making Mr. Obama look like a tax cutter.

The president gladly played that role Thursday, appearing at the White House with about a dozen people who said 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 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 House bill was far more workable for businesses and the economy than the two-month extension that the Senate passed.

He also 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.

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