Friday, December 16, 2011

Payroll tax down to wire (Politico)

Mitch McConnell says Harry Reid should talk to John Boehner. Reid says he wants to talk to Boehner to hash out a compromise on extending the payroll tax holiday and jobless benefits. But Boehner first wants Reid to show his hand by actually passing something.

The circuitous negotiations of the three top leaders in Congress have real consequences as they struggle to pass a payroll tax holiday, extend jobless benefits and approve more than $1 trillion in federal spending before adjourning for the holidays. Rank-and-file lawmakers in both parties are getting agitated over the inability of Congress to complete its most basic tasks without lurching into another crisis.

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The latest hope for a breakthrough came Wednesday night: Democrats were considering scrapping their millionaires? surtax, but it was far from clear what else they?d give up and whether Republicans would return any concessions. Late Wednesday, Boehner, McConnell and Reid met in the Capitol after a day of public posturing and little progress.

With a deadline rapidly approaching, the developments created yet another picture of a dysfunctional Washington and a Congress with rock-bottom approval ratings that?s been defined by eleventh-hour brinkmanship.

In the lurch this chapter: the construction of a new pipeline, cuts to health care programs, environmental rules and shortening the duration of jobless benefits.

?The two biggest things are frustration with Washington?s gridlock and grave anxiety about some of the really bad ideas that are being foisted in Washington right now,? said Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.). ?Those things really unnerve people at home.?

By Wednesday afternoon, each side had retreated to its respective corner: Reid and Senate Democratic leaders were meeting at the White House with President Barack Obama and weighing what concessions to make, including ditching the millionaires? surtax that Republicans strongly oppose.

Boehner, showing the bravado that riles up his House Republican Conference, told lawmakers in a lengthy, closed party meeting that he would pass the agreed-upon omnibus spending bill in his chamber Friday, just hours before the government was slated to shut down.

The speaker told his colleagues at the closed meeting that Reid is holding a government funding bill hostage to force a shutdown and wants House Republicans to cave.

?And we won?t,? Boehner said, according to people in attendance.

At the personal request of Obama, Reid and congressional Democrats have been withholding support for a $1 trillion-plus government spending bill until they get enough GOP support to pass a payroll tax bill to their liking. Democrats also want some changes to the funding bill, but their biggest priority is to deliver to Obama the payroll tax holiday that he?s been demanding on the campaign trail.


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