Cantor blames Senate Democrats for holding up payroll tax cut extension

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Friday said Senate Democrats are to blame for failure of members of the House and Senate to reach an agreement to extend the payroll tax holiday for a full year.

Cantor was asked by House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) whether the House should work nights and weekends to ensure the payroll tax holiday is resolved by mid-February, to avoid more last-minute problems like Congress had in December. But Cantor replied by saying Senate Democrats have so far been non-responsive to House Republican proposals for paying for that extension.

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"I would ask the gentleman if he could please direct his urgency towards the majority leader in the Senate to see if we can get this off the dime and resolve the issue of the payroll tax," Cantor said.

"The issue has been the reluctance on the gentleman's side of the aisle on the other side of the Capitol," Cantor added. "If I thought that working seven days a week, through weekends and all hours of the day and night would make a difference, I would be all for that as well."

As evidence, Cantor noted that the House this week approved legislation with 309 House votes to freeze the pay of federal workers and members of Congress through 2013, which he said would free up $26 billion to help pay for the extended payroll tax holiday. But he said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has had no response to that proposal.

Republicans approved that bill, and another bill aimed at reducing federal welfare fraud and abuse, as a way to show support for including these offsets in the payroll tax bill. "But again, no response from the Senate," he said of the welfare reform proposal.

After these remarks, Hoyer pressed Cantor again on whether House-Senate conferees might reach a compromise by mid-February, and noted that the House approved a motion to instruct conferees to reach an agreement by then. But Cantor did not commit to a specific date, and said only he hopes a deal can be reached in an "expeditious manner."

Cantor and Hoyer also sparred over credit and blame for the recent economic recession. Hoyer prodded Cantor to acknowledged Friday's good jobs report, which showed 243,000 net new jobs, but Cantor said the United States needs to do better, and reiterated GOP plans to bring up a bill in March that would cut small business taxes by 20 percent.

While both called generally for bipartisan cooperation on jobs-related bills, Hoyer complained that Republicans so far do not appear to be cooperating with Democrats on a highway funding bill. Hoyer noted reports that Republicans are looking to attach language opening up drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

"If you're going to work on a bipartisan basis, we ought to understand that we're going to have to not try to push on one party or the other things that are unacceptable, and won't pass," Hoyer said.

Hoyer also added that Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has criticized the bill as partisan.

But Cantor shot back that the Obama administration has no interest in working with Republicans on the bill.

"The administration has been absent on all of this," he said. "They're not interested in working with us to create a product where we can see jobs created.

"As you can see, the Secretary sits in his office and opines and attacks the bill. Now that's not a way to collaborate and work together," Cantor said.

Hoyer responded to those remarks by noting that the House Transportation Committee early this morning approved the highway funding bill even though no committee member could say they had read the bill, and that it is therefore ironic to say the administration will not work with House Republicans.

Hoyer also said he doubted that LaHood, a former Republican congressman, would refuse to work with the GOP.

"If you're telling me that Ray LaHood won't work with Republicans, I simply do not accept that premise. I think that's a disservice to Ray LaHood, if that's what you're saying," Hoyer said.

Cantor said he agrees that LaHood is a "fine gentleman," but added, "all I can say is, actions speak louder than words."