House Democrats sought to turn Republicans’ argument that Congress is in session back against them Friday, taking to the House floor to make their case for the immediate start of negotiations on a long-term payroll tax cut extension.

Their effort — largely an act of political theater, and one that would seem to be an assist to President Obama’s ramped-up offensive against congressional Republicans as the 2012 election gears up — was blocked by House Republicans, who gaveled Friday’s brief “pro forma” meeting in and out of session as the Democrats continued to try to speak for several minutes.

“We have been told by the Republicans that we are in session. We just spent four minutes in session, and now we’re done. ... Either we’re in or we’re out of session,” Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) said.

“As Ricky Ricardo used to tell Lucille Ball, I think our Republican colleagues have some ‘splaining to do, because this is not how you run government,” he added.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who like Becerra is among the Democrats tapped to serve on a bipartisan payroll tax conference committee, charged that “the Republicans are playing a game, ‘Let’s pretend.’ ”

“Let’s pretend we’re in session for four minutes. ... They’re playing, ‘Let’s pretend it doesn’t make any difference that were going to meet only five days in the month of January,’ ” Waxman said, adding that conferees have been told there will be no meeting until Jan. 18 or later.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said that members were “told with great vehemence yesterday that Congress is in session,” a reference to congressional Republicans’ argument that President Obama’s appointment of Richard Cordray to head the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau was an overreach by the executive since Congress is still technically in session.

“Where are they? ... What is this, one month on, one month off?” Pelosi said of the congressional schedule.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), responded that the House has already passed its own version of legislation extending for one year the payroll tax holiday, unemployment insurance and other provisions and including “other jobs measures like expensing to help businesses invest in new jobs.”

“We have appointed conferees and expect to go to conference and finish our work,” Steel said. “In the meantime, if House Democrats really want to help the American people, they should urge their Senate colleagues to take up and pass the 27 House-passed bipartisan jobs bills awaiting action.”

In addition, the House Republican conferees may be away from Washington, but they are still getting down to business: On Friday morning, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) held a conference call with the other House GOP conferees. News of the conference call was first reported by Politico.

Both the Democratic-controlled Senate and the Republican-led House will meet for only a handful of days at the end of January. And while Pelosi and other House Democrats trained their fire on Republicans, most Senate Democrats are out of town as well.

The roles were reversed when Democrats controlled the House several years ago and Republicans were the ones blocked from speaking on issues, including the gas tax holiday.

Still, Democrats on Friday appeared to be making an effort to tap into public disapproval of Congress and channel that ire in the Republican direction.

Rep. Donna Edwards (D-Md.) cast the thinking behind the GOP’s House schedule as, “We want to work five days in January for a month’s pay. We want to work four minutes on Friday for a month’s pay.”

“It’s time for Republicans in Washington to work a month for a month’s pay,” she said.

This post has been updated since it was first published.