“We’re fighting to do the right thing,” he said.
But then Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) issued a statement urging the House to accept the two-month deal first and then turn to discussions about the rest of the year.
House Republicans “sensibly want greater certainty about the duration of these provisions, while Senate Democrats want more time to negotiate the terms,” McConnell said. “These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both.”
And as the day wore on, a number of House members broke ranks and urged the speaker to let the House accept the 60-day deal.
“Washington’s dysfunction shouldn’t dictate a tax increase on my constituents,” said Rep. Sean Duffy (Wis.), one of the most politically vulnerable of the nearly 90 House Republican freshmen. He had previously voted to reject the Senate deal.
Senate leaders expressed relief that the House had come around. Reid said he was “grateful the voices of reason have prevailed and Speaker Boehner has agreed to pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise.”
McConnell said Obama’s statements in the past week “castigating House Republicans” amounted to “the kind of unhelpful political opportunism Americans are tired of” and accused Obama of failing to broker long-term economic solutions. But he, too, said he was pleased with the outcome.
The two-month arrangement had been crafted by McConnell and Reid after talks fell apart in the Senate over how to pay for a $200 billion year-long package.
Republicans had sought to impose higher Medicare premiums on upper-income senior citizens while Democrats wanted to close tax loopholes for the wealthy. They will return to that impasse in January.
But Republicans believed they wrested a key concession from Democrats — a provision that requires Obama to decide in 60 days whether to allow construction of an extension of the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
McConnell had apparently believed initially that the House would quickly sign off on the Senate deal. Instead, the House rank-and-file exploded with fury in a conference call last Saturday, insisting that their own, previously approved bill to maintain the tax cut for another year was better. That bill would have extended a freeze on federal workers’ salaries and put more limits on a continuation of unemployment insurance.
On Tuesday, the House voted 229 to 193 to set aside the Senate’s deal and request that the Senate form a conference committee to work out differences between the two chambers’ versions of the legislation.
But Reid charged that Boehner was walking away from what was already a bipartisan agreement, and it became clear that he would not appoint Senate conferees.
House Republicans started taking fire from conservative opinion makers for somehow allowing their party to appear on the wrong side of a tax cut.
“This is like poker. You’ve got to know when to hold and know when to fold,” said Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.).
Staff writers Felicia Sonmez, Paul Kane and David Nakamura contributed to this report.