House Speaker John Boehner says House Republicans are united against a Senate bill to extend the payroll tax holiday but that may be the only way the majority in Congress's lower chamber is unified.
At a Monday morning news conference, Boehner said House Republicans would reject the Senate's two-month payroll tax cut extension in preference for a year-long extension. What's strange about Boehner's position is that during a private conference call with Republicans on Saturday, the House Speaker praised the Senate's bill, which includes the fast-tracking of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, a key priority for Republicans. Beyond that, Boehner said the House should pass the bill, according to GOP's sources speaking with The Hill and Politico. Why the sudden change of heart between now and Saturday?
His GOP colleagues revolted against him. "His members angrily shot [the Senate bill] down," reports John Bresnahan. "They raged against the Senate for failing to take up a yearlong extension and vowed to vote against the measure on the House floor." As a result, the future of the payroll tax extension is in limbo, including other GOP priorities such as reimbursements to doctors who treat Medicare patients, a key Republican constituency. Now, in the run-up to today's 6:30 p.m. vote on the Senate bill, Boehner is in the unusual position of opposing a bill supported by Republican Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
"The Senate bill passed in an overwhelming bipartisan vote, 89-10, putting House Republicans directly at odds with a majority of GOP senators who backed it," The Hill's Russell Berman reports. "House GOP aides said it was not clear if party leaders would actively whip against the measure. Democrats are urging their members to support it, meaning that if about two dozen Republicans defected to vote yes, the bill could pass."
If Republicans vote down the bill and vote to begin negotiations with the Senate on a year-long compromise, as Boehner promised Monday, it's not clear what happens next, since the Senate has skipped town for Christmas vacation. Update: Raising the stakes, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said Monday the Senate would not return for negotiations if the House votes down the bill. "My House colleagues should be clear on what their vote means today. If Republicans vote down the bipartisan compromise negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders, and passed by 89 senators including 39 Republicans, their intransigence will mean that in ten days, 160 million middle class Americans will see a tax increase, over two million Americans will begin losing their unemployment benefits, and millions of senior citizens on Medicare could find it harder to receive treatment from physicians," according to a CNN news alert.
White House spokesman Dan Pfeiffer made a similar statement earlier. "If House Republicans refuse to pass this bipartisan bill to extend the payroll tax cut, there will be a significant tax increase on 160 million hardworking Americans in 13 days that would damage the economy and job growth."
Still, the greatest sign of communication problems in the House stems from the dissonance between Boehner and McConnell, who seemed optimistic of the House supporting the bill on Friday, Roll Call reports:
When asked Friday night whether he had received assurances from Boehner that the short-term extension would pass, McConnell did not give an explicit “yes” but seemed to indicate things were in good shape.
“I’m optimistic that we’re going to do well in the morning, and obviously I keep the Speaker informed as to what I’m doing,” McConnell said as he left the Capitol.