Reid rejects reopening tax talks unless House passes Senate payroll bill

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) on Monday rejected House Republicans’ demand to renegotiate a bipartisan deal to extend the payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits.

Reid said he would not convene a bicameral conference meeting to work out differences between Senate and House payroll tax legislation unless House Republicans first approve a two-month extension of the tax break affecting 160 million people.

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The House is scheduled to vote on the Senate bill Monday night, and Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has predicted it will be rejected. But Reid’s decision will make it a tougher vote in the House, as not approving the Senate tax bill would mean a hike in the payroll tax in January. 

The Senate passed the stopgap measure Saturday in a bipartisan 89-10 vote. 

“Senator McConnell and I negotiated a compromise at Speaker Boehner’s request, Reid said in a news release. “I will not re-open negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders, and supported by 90 percent of the Senate.

Senate Democrats said Boehner signaled to them that he would accept the bipartisan deal hashed out between Reid and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Friday. They were caught off-guard when Boehner unexpectedly rejected the agreement during a Sunday morning appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press.

Reid said if House Republicans reject the Senate deal, they would be solely responsible for people seeing their taxes rise next month.

The Nevada Democrat said he will resume negotiations once the danger of a January tax hike is averted.

“I have always sought a year-long extension. I have been trying to forge one for weeks, and I am happy to continue negotiating one once we have made sure middle-class families will not wake up to a tax increase on January 1st,” he said in his news release. “So before we re-open negotiations on a year-long extension, the House of Representatives must protect middle-class families by passing the overwhelmingly bipartisan compromise that Republicans negotiated, and was approved by ninety percent of the Senate.”

Earlier on Monday, Boehner predicted the House would reject the Senate bill, and urged senators to end their vacation and work with the House on a conference agreement to extend the tax cut for a full year. 

“This is a vote on whether Congress will stay and do its work or go on vacation,” Boehner told reporters at the Capitol. "I expect that the House will disagree with the Senate amendment and instead vote to formally go to conference — the formal process of which the House and Senate can resolve our differences between our two chambers and our two bills.”

The House GOP conference is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m., with a vote on the Senate bill after that meeting.

House Republicans argued that in calling for new talks to extend the payroll tax cut for a year, they are joining President Obama, who asked for the year-long extension in September as part of his jobs bill. 

But the White House supports the two-month extension, and argued that the House should now approve it to ensure taxes don’t go up in January. The White House displayed a new countdown clock in its press room in which a running clock counted down the seconds until the payroll tax cut would expire unless the "House" took action. Previously the clock called for action by "Congress."

Reid also received backing on his position from two Republican senators, Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Dick Lugar of Indiana. Both face tough reelection battles next year. 

Lugar said he hoped that a "majority of Republicans and Democrats" would move forward the measure in the House. Lugar said in an interview on MSNBC that moving the two-month extension would be good for the country. 

Brown ripped House Republican efforts to "scuttle" the two-month deal, saying this would be "irresponsible and wrong." He also said it would lead to higher taxes on workers and families and reflected a refusal to compromise.

— This story was updated at 2:19 p.m.