House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters late Wednesday that no decisions had been made, but that the House had acted to extend the tax cut and now it was the Senate’s turn.
“I’m tired of hearing what the Senate can’t do,” he said. “I think it’s time for us to wait and see what the Senate can do.”
The day’s events highlighted the fact that neither side has come up with a way to pay for the tax cut that can get the 60 votes necessary for Senate approval.
Senate Democrats say that the House bill is unacceptable and that they will vote against it, and the White House has said President Obama would veto it.
Their objections center on several GOP initiatives added to the bill to attract votes from conservatives, many of whom would not support the tax cut extension otherwise. They include a reduction in unemployment benefits, new rules that could require the unemployed to take drug tests and enroll in GED programs to receive benefits, and the delay of new regulations on boiler emissions.
They also include an extension of a pay freeze for federal workers and higher Medicare premiums for upper-income seniors. And the two sides are clashing over a provision that would force a decision on a construction permit for the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days. The State Department, which is reviewing the pipeline issue, has said that if forced to make a decision so quickly, it would have to deny the permit.
Twice, the Senate has also blocked Democratic proposals that would pay for the tax cut with a new surtax on millionaires.
If the dispute resulted in a shutdown, not all agencies and departments would be affected, thanks to a partial spending bill passed in November. The departments of Agriculture, Commerce, Housing and Urban Development, Justice, State, and Transportation, as well as NASA and some other smaller agencies, would be spared.
But much of the government would be shuttered — national parks would close, for instance, and processing of some passports would cease. The showdown marks the fourth time this year that congressional disputes have dragged the government to the brink of a partial shutdown.
Behind the white-hot rhetoric of their leaders, many rank-and-file lawmakers continued to predict that a last-minute compromise would extend the tax cut and prevent a shutdown. A number wearily said that the only casualty of the fight would be Congress’s already battered reputation.
“It’s all going to get passed eventually,” said Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.). “But the political maneuvering is sickening.”
Staff writers Paul Kane, Ed O’Keefe, David Nakamura and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.
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