House passes payroll tax cut extension bill despite veto threat

The House on Tuesday afternoon approved legislation that extends the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits, but includes several provisions that Democrats vigorously oppose.

Members approved the bill in a 234-193 vote in which 224 Republicans supported it — short of House Speaker John Boehner's (R-Ohio) goal of getting 240 GOP votes, which he said would give the House a "strong hand" in negotiations with Senate Democrats. The bill was opposed by 14 Republicans, but it attracted the support of 10 Democrats.

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The vote sets up the prospect of negotiations with the White House and Senate over how to deal with the bill, as the Senate is not expected to approve it. The House all year has moved to pass critical legislation in order to boost its chances of success in negations with Democrats in the Senate and the White House, and appeared to be following that game plan with today's vote.

For numerous reasons, the bill, H.R. 3630, is controversial with Democrats, who wanted to pay for these extensions through tax increases. The House GOP bill pays for extensions to the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance through reforms and cuts to existing spending, and would also trim discretionary spending by $30 billion over the next decade.

House Ways & Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) defended these unemployment provisions as needed reforms that would promote work over welfare.

"Why are we making these reforms instead of just passing a straight extension?" he asked on the floor. "Because we know that a paycheck is better than an unemployment check. These bipartisan reforms will help get Americans back to work while providing them with assistance during hard times."


The bill also contains what Democrats see as extraneous language that would speed up the timing of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, and delays pending EPA rules on industrial boilers. Pelosi said Republicans were using the Keystone pipeline issue as a diversion from President Obama's jobs plan.

"It is clear that the Republicans, in using the pipeline, are trying to change the subject," she said.

Republicans said the Keystone language and other provisions answer the demands by Democrats to approve a jobs plan, but Democrats rejected this. Some went so far as to say the GOP wants the bill to fail, as President Obama on Tuesday threatened to veto the bill over the Keystone language.

"So they're bringing a bill to the floor today, which says they're for a payroll-tax cut, but has within it the seeds of its own destruction, because it has poison pills, which they know are not acceptable to the president," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

"The House Republicans have designed a bill to fail," Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.) said. "They say they're for extending the payroll-tax cut for middle-class Americans, they say they want to help the unemployed, but yet they demand a ransom in order for us to get this passed."

Like Camp, House Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) insisted that the various provisions in the bill are not poison pills, but real reforms aimed at trimming federal spending in light of the ongoing fiscal crisis.

"The idea of saying that we want to encourage those who are unemployed to move towards a GED does not seem to me to be a poison pill," Dreier said of one of the reforms to the unemployment insurance program that Democrats opposed. "The idea of saying that we should have drug testing … so that people who are receiving these unemployment benefits are not using those resources to purchase drugs is obviously not a poison pill."

Democrats more generally complained about the process Republicans used to bring up a bill that had no input from Democrats. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Republicans reneged on there promise not to attack controversial language to must-pass bills.

"That apparently was a campaign pledge not to be honored in practice," he said, adding that he would be "shocked" if anyone read the bill.

"If Republicans were serious, truly serious about trying to come together on behalf of American families, they would have reached out to Democrats in this House," House Ways & Means Committee Ranking Member Sandy Levin (D-Mich.) said. "They've done nothing of the sort. They've made a sham out of bipartisanship."

House Energy & Commerce Committee Ranking Member Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) predicted Democrats would win back the House once the nation sees the "Keystone Kops" way Republicans have managed the House, and based on this, introduced two subcommittee ranking members as the future chairmen of those subcommittees.

Democrats used every trick in the book to slow House consideration of the bill. Before the rule for the bill was debated, Democrats raised a point of order against the bill. Later, they put forward a motion to recommit the bill, usually a 30 minute delay before passage. But this time, Democrats insisted that a good chunk of the lengthy motion be read out loud, which delayed the final vote even more.

Democrats voting "yes" were Reps. John Barrow (Ga.), Dan Boren (Okla.), Leonard Boswell (Iowa), Bruce Braley (Iowa), Dennis Cardoza (Calif.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Dave Loebsack (Iowa), Jim Matheson (Utah), Mike Ross (Ark.), and Tim Walz (Minn.).

Republicans voting against it were Reps. Justin Amash (Mich.), Joe Barton (Texas), Mo Brooks (Ala.), John Campbell (Calif.), Jeff Flake (Ariz.), Jeff Fortenberry (Neb.), Scott Garrett (NJ), Tim Johnson (Ill.), Cynthia Lummis (Wyo.), Tom McClintock (Calif.), David McKinley (W.Va.), Randy Neugebauer (Texas), Frank Wolf (Va.), and Rob Woodall (Ga.).

Presidential candidates Ron Paul (R-Texas) and Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) did not vote.

— This story was updated at 7:21 p.m.

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