CQ TODAY ONLINE NEWS
Jan. 20, 2012 – 9:36 p.m.
Payroll Tax Debate Set to Resume
By Sam Goldfarb, CQ Staff
The House and the Senate will both be in session this week for the first time since their awkward parting last month. But the chambers are not likely to reach a quick agreement on an extension of a payroll tax cut, long-term unemployment benefits or a Medicare fix preventing cuts in payments to doctors.
A year-end confrontation ended with House Republicans reluctantly accepting the Senate’s stopgap legislation after most lawmakers had left town. The two-month extension (PL 112-78) effectively put off a battle over how to pay for a longer-term package.
Those decisions will now need to be made by a formal House-Senate conference committee, which will convene its first meeting Tuesday. The panel is unlikely to make progress this week because lawmakers will be focused on President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening, and House Democrats are scheduled to depart Jan. 25 for their annual retreat.
With the Senate still in recess last week, the House convened briefly before Republicans left Jan. 19 for their meeting in Baltimore. In their few days at the Capitol, lawmakers provided little indication of how the payroll tax standoff might be resolved.
House Republicans were still analyzing what had happened in December. While mostly supportive of Speaker
Some House Republicans said they still want an explanation from Senate Minority Leader
In remarks to reporters, Boehner said the House GOP Conference had picked “the right fight” but “probably picked it at the wrong time” in pushing for a full-year bill.
Such comments could suggest that Republican leaders will seek a relatively quick resolution of the payroll tax package in order to move on to other issues where the GOP is on stronger political ground.
Indeed, some Republicans remained bluntly off message last week, asserting that reducing the employee-paid portion of the payroll tax from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent was a bad idea all along. A one-year reduction of the tax rate was part of a 2010 year-end tax package (PL 111-312).
“I think that cutting payroll taxes was basically telling people this year that you don’t have to make contributions to Social Security,” Texas Republican Rep.
Democrats, who appeared to have the political wind at their backs in the payroll tax dispute last month, sent mixed signals last week about the chances of a swift deal.
Payroll Tax Debate Set to Resume
House Minority Whip
But Minority Leader
Democrats would pay for the package of extensions by imposing a surtax on those with incomes over $1 million.
“If the Republicans have some other suggestions, let them put them forward,” Pelosi said. “But Democrats are not going to give with one hand to the middle class and take away with the other hand.”
For Democrats, the payroll tax fight has been a political blessing after frustrating months of haggling with Republicans over deficit reduction. In their view, the debate has played into the Democratic campaign message of fighting economic inequality and has exposed Republicans as indifferent to the struggles of average workers.
Still, recent polls provide little evidence that the latest twists and turns in Congress have changed perceptions outside Washington. A New York Times/CBS poll released Jan. 18 found an approval rating of 19 percent for congressional Republicans, a level unchanged from November. In the same poll, 26 percent of respondents approved of the job congressional Democrats are doing, a drop from 28 percent.
While his poll numbers have improved in recent months, Obama still faces a deficit of support among independent voters disillusioned with government. That, and the positive short-term impact a payroll tax cut extension could have on the economy, gives the White House reason to hope Congress can clear an extension fairly quickly.