The House voted on Tuesday to reject a Senate compromise that would have extended a federal payroll tax holiday for two months, continued unemployment benefits for the long-term jobless and averted a cut in the reimbursement rate for doctors who treat Medicare patients.
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At its heart, the fight over the tax cut is only the latest incarnation of the same ideological clash that has afflicted Congress for the past year, over what the government should fund and how it should be paid for.
Once again, Democrats and Republicans foundered over whether to fund an initiative by cutting entitlements and other spending or by raising taxes on the wealthy.
It’s the same argument that foiled the “supercommittee” on deficit-reduction this fall and fed the summer’s contentious debate over raising the federal debt ceiling.
“It’s like deja vu all over again. It’s like ‘Groundhog Day,’ ” said Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.).
After Tuesday’s vote, Democrats held to their position that the Senate deal already represented a bipartisan compromise — crafted by the chamber’s two top leaders and adopted on an 89-to-10 vote — and that there was no reason for the Senate to reopen negotiations.
Following a pattern that developed as they lurched from one crisis to another all year, each side appeared to believe that the pressure of an impending deadline and angry public reaction would force the other to capitulate.
Obama has been lobbying for months to keep the expiring tax cut in place next year, rather than allowing the tax rate on wages to jump from 4.2 to 6.2 percent and on Tuesday the White House said he would remain in Washington to get the issue settled — but would not say whether he still plans to join his family in Hawaii for the holiday at some point. But he did not seem to be in the mood to negotiate.
White House advisers believe Obama has gained political ground during the weeks of fighting with Republicans over his jobs package and the payroll tax cut.
The president has tried to position himself as a champion of the middle class, and two new polls this week show his approval ratings rising to the upper 40s, their highest level since the summer. Conversely, the public’s opinion of Congress has continued to fall.
Late Tuesday, the White House launched a new public pressure campaign around the issue — asking people to weigh in on Twitter and Facebook about what $40, the average savings per paycheck provided by the tax cut, means to them.