With the final battle of the 112th Congress still unresolved, the House adjourned on Tuesday and will meet “as necessary” over the holidays. The adjournment leaves in limbo the fate of a bipartisan package that would prevent a New Year’s Day tax increase for 160 million Americans, extend unemployment insurance and head off a cut in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.
“Members are advised that the House will be in session as necessary to consider a conference report on H.R. 3630, the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act of 2011,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-Va.) office wrote in a memo to House members Tuesday afternoon. “The House’s request for a conference will be transmitted to the United States Senate this afternoon where it will await the appointment of their conferees. To be clear, H.R. 3630 will physically reside in the Senate by the close of business today.”
“Members will be provided with at least 24 hours’ notice prior to the House’s next recorded vote,” the memo states.
The move by House Republican leaders leaves the next steps unclear in the fight over a payroll tax package that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Saturday but has drawn the ire of House Republicans, who argue that the length of the two-month deal would lead to economic uncertainty.
After the House rejected the Senate measure Tuesday afternoon, Democratic leaders in the chamber blasted GOP lawmakers for voting to move the issue to a bipartisan, bicameral conference committee in order to work out the differences between the parties.
“This isn’t about process,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said. “It’s about results. The American people have the right to ask the question, ‘Why are you putting process before a payroll tax cut?’”
House Republicans, many of whom initially opposed the idea of a payroll tax holiday on policy grounds, are now calling for a one-year extension rather than the Senate-passed two-month plan.
But the key sticking point remains how to pay for a longer-term extension. Cantor argued on the House floor Tuesday afternoon that “the truth is we’re not far apart.”
“The negotiators got extremely close,” he said. “We owe some stability and good tax policy to the hard working people of this country, not more gimmicks and political games. ... We need to come together in a responsible manner to find common ground where we can accomplish everyone’s goal of a year-long payroll tax extension.”
Democrats have contended that the negotiators were not close when it came to agreeing to a way to pay for a longer-term deal, and Rep. Sander Levin (D-Mich.) on Tuesday said of Cantor’s remarks, “It’s a delusion when he says that.”
“They cut 40 weeks out of unemployment insurance,” Levin said of the House-passed one-year payroll tax bill. “3.3 million people would lose benefits under the bill that they passed. And for him to talk about ‘90 percent’ [agreement] is totally, totally self-serving. They need to step up to the plate today, today and pass a bill that the vast majority of Republicans in the Senate voted for, including every single member of the Republican leadership.”
Pelosi, too, argued that the two sides were far apart in the negotiations and called it “an illusion” that Republicans back a payroll tax cut extension and are seeking to work together in a bipartisan way.
“Whatever they say is irrelevant,” she said. “What they do is important, and what they are doing is not giving a payroll tax cut to 160 million Americans.”
The House is scheduled to meet in a pro-forma session at 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, and the House GOP-appointed conferees were meeting at the Capitol Tuesday evening to map out a way forward. In the meantime, rank-and-file Republicans continued the blast the short-term Senate-passed plan.
“The Senate bill is two months,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said on the House floor. “It’s $160 [rather than a $1,000 payroll tax cut extension]. So let’s be clear and honest with the American people. What we’re talking about here in the House of Representatives and on our side of the aisle today, we want to do our work. We are willing to stay here and do the work.”