Senate Democrats signaled on Tuesday that they would keep their foot on the throttle in negotiations over extending the payroll tax cut, a day after House GOP leaders dropped their demand to offset the tax break.
Sen. Charles Schumer of New York, who helps craft Democratic messaging, told reporters on Tuesday that the Republican shift was a “full-scale retreat,” and said Democrats would continue to press Republicans to extend emergency unemployment benefits and the Medicare "doc fix" along with the payroll tax cut.
“We’re very glad that they gave in on the payroll tax cut,” Schumer said. “But they should not be under the illusion that they can figure now, job done. And we’re going to make sure they know that, and the American people know that.”
Schumer’s comments come as GOP leaders — wary of repeating what happened in December, when Republicans took a political hit in the payroll tax negotiations — are apparently willing to take the tax break off the table in talks.
The payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment benefits and Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors will all expire at month’s end, unless Congress acts.
The Senate, among other options, could try to amend a payroll tax bill sent over by the House, and send it back with provisions dealing with unemployment insurance and the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors.
Schumer was also far from the only Washington Democrat to indicate on Tuesday that they would try to keep the pressure on Republicans on the payroll tax issue.
President Obama, for one, urged Republicans to pass both the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits.
“We’ve got to keep on making sure that the American people’s voices keep breaking through until this is absolutely, finally, completely done,” Obama said.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Tuesday that her caucus would support the stand-alone payroll tax bill.
But Pelosi also urged the conference committee tasked with dealing with the payroll tax cut, unemployment benefits and doc fix to complete its work by the end of the week — and said the House should cancel its recess scheduled for next week if it failed to do so.
On the other side of the Capitol, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said her caucus also preferred that the conference committee complete the job on its three main items.
Sources close to the conference committee have said that the panel is making progress on paying for the Medicare doc fix and unemployment benefits, which could cost around $60 billion combined.
But Democrats and Republicans, at least publicly, have clashed over possible reforms to the unemployment insurance program, perhaps most notably over the maximum number of weeks an unemployed worker can receive benefits.
On Tuesday, Schumer noted that unemployment benefits had been extended in the past without being paid for, and that emergency insurance has been found in some polls to be as popular as the payroll tax cut.
“It’s rare to see Republicans so utterly on the defensive, on the issue of taxes no less,” Schumer said.