House Republicans on Saturday voiced vigorous opposition to a short-term payroll tax package that includes a provision on the Keystone oil pipeline, arguing that the two-month deal would add to economic uncertainty and give Democrats the upper hand in the second round of the tax-cut battle early next year.
The objections to the tax-cut package, raised by lawmakers during a conference call Saturday afternoon, raise the possibility of new tumult and a final cliff-hanger vote in the House early next week.
On Saturday’s conference call with members, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) described three possible options to members, according to a GOP aide — “accept the Senate bill, go to conference or amend the Senate bill and send it back.”
“Members are overwhelmingly disappointed in the Senate’s decision to just ‘kick the can down the road’ for two months,” the aide said, adding that leaders made no announcement regarding the House’s schedule or plans.
House leaders told rank-and-file members before the chamber recessed on Friday that they would give 24 hours’ notice ahead of any expected votes next week; so far, no notice has been given.
Senate leaders in both parties said Saturday that they believed the House would approve the deal, which sailed through the Senate on an 89-to-10 vote. The $33 billion package would keep the payroll tax rate at 4.2 percent rather than allowing it to revert to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1; it also would extend unemployment benefits and postpone a cut in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.
Republicans succeeded in securing a provision in the deal that would force the Obama administration to decide within 60 days on whether to issue a permit for the construction of the 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline. The measure will be paid for not by a surtax on millionaires, which Democrats supported, but rather through an increase in fees on lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. That provision received bipartisan support in debt-reduction deals earlier this year.
The White House on Saturday called the agreement a “significant victory,” and leading House Democrats have suggested they would call on their members to back the package.
“House Democrats will return to Washington to take up this legislation without delay, and we will keep up the fight to extend these provisions for a full year,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.
But those who participated in Saturday’s House GOP conference call said that members of the majority are deeply dissatisfied with the deal.
“House Republicans are furious,” Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said. “It was a chorus of frustration with the Senate. They’re always in punt formation. ... If we want jobs, and if we want the economy to grow, we need some stability and predictability. This will make the situation worse, not better.”
Chaffetz added that rank-and-file members seemed eager to make changes to the hard-fought Senate deal.
A person who participated in Saturday’s call said that Boehner called the deal a victory and said members should “take it and live to fight another day.”
But other top Republicans, including House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (Va.) and Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas), said the package was a bad deal, according to the person on the call.
Among the concerns voiced by GOP leaders and rank-and-file members were that the two-month deal would not bring certainty to the middle class or to doctors and also that it would give the president a chance to “wag his finger” at Congress during his State of the Union address next month.
Adding to the uncertainty surrounding the payroll tax fight: On Saturday evening, Obama signed not the long-term government funding measure approved by both chambers, but rather a seven-day funding bill that lawmakers had passed in the case of an 11th-hour dispute on the payroll tax deal.
Boehner is scheduled to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday morning, an appearance that is likely to shed further light on where the payroll tax package is headed next.