“The sooner we put this useless partisan charade behind us, the sooner we can negotiate a solution that protects middle-class workers,” Reid (D-Nev.) said.
But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected, arguing that in a divided Congress, the tax fight must be worked out by Reid and House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio). The Senate, McConnell said, should first take up a massive spending bill that will outline funding priorities for much of the government through September 2012 and ensure that federal agencies don’t close down this week. A temporary bill keeping the lights on expires Friday.
“First things first: Let’s keep the government from shutting down,” McConnell said. “If the majority leader is correct that the House bill won’t pass the Senate, why won’t he talk to the speaker and work out something that can pass on a bipartisan basis?”
In an especially bitter exchange at the start of the day’s session, Reid and McConnell traded blame for the stalemate over the issue that is preventing Congress from finishing its work and adjourning for the holidays.
Reid accused Republicans of living in “a world of non-reality” and said it was clear that “my friends on the other side of the aisle obviously want to have the government shut down.”
McConnell countered that Democrats were blocking a bipartisan agreement on the spending bill as leverage on the payroll tax issue and said Democrats have been dealing with “one point-scoring bill after another, designed.”
“Time is wasting,” he said.
The Senate fight took place a day after the House passed a version of a payroll tax cut extension despite a veto threat from the White House.
Approved 234 to 193, the Republican measure would extend a one-year break in the payroll tax that is due to expire at the end of the month, setting the rate at 4.2 percent for the year instead of allowing it to revert to 6.2 percent. But tied to the measure is a provision to speed up construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast that the White House is determined to slow down.
The bill’s passage was a victory for Boehner, who muscled it through the chamber largely on Republican votes, drawing support from conservatives wary of the tax cut by loading the bill with other GOP-favored items.
To fund the payroll tax cut, the measure would freeze pay for civilian federal workers for another year and reduce the government workforce. It would extend benefits for the long-term unemployed but reform the unemployment insurance program to reduce the maximum time that the unemployed can receive assistance, from 99 weeks to 59 weeks. It also would allow states to require drug testing for benefits.