By Molly K. Hooper and Michael O’Brien - 12/07/10 11:00 AM EST
Some rank-and-file Republican lawmakers are uneasy about the tax cut deal their leaders struck with the White House.
Hours before the bipartisan agreement was announced on Monday, a few GOP members sent signals they weren’t comfortable with where the talks were headed.
Republican leaders have long stressed that any extension of unemployment benefits should be offset with spending cuts. However, some newly elected House GOP members claim the benefits have gone on for too long and need to be halted.
Congressional Democrats and President Obama insisted that unemployment benefits be extended as part of any deal on the tax cuts.
In recent days, GOP leadership officials warmed to that type of compromise.
In making their case on unemployment, Democrats noted the upcoming holiday season, putting Republicans in a politically difficult spot.
That argument does little to convince Tea Party lawmakers.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) said Monday — before the White House deal was unveiled — that congressional Republicans could balk at voting to extend all the tax cuts for two years if it’s tied to a long-term extension of jobless benefits. Bachmann is the chairwoman of the House Tea Party Caucus.
“I don’t know that Republicans would necessarily go along with that vote. That would be a very hard vote to take,” Bachmann said on conservative commentator Sean Hannity’s radio show.
“I think we’re back in a conundrum. I think the compromise would be extending the rates for two years and not permanently, but not tying it to massive spending,” she said. “We cannot add on something like a year of unemployment benefits.”
It is unclear how much the tax cut/unemployment benefits compromise package will cost, but most believe it will add billions of dollars to the nation’s deficit.
During a Saturday press conference on Capitol Hill, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) declined to answer questions about unemployment benefits, noting that talks with the White House are ongoing.
Pressed on the matter, McConnell responded with a smile, “I have many faults, but lack of discipline is not one of them.”
Prolonging unemployment insurance beyond the 99 weeks that jobless benefits have been extended over the past two years is unwarranted, according to some Republicans.
Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), who was sworn in to office last month, told The Hill early Monday afternoon, “I would definitely look at how they were going to cover the expense of extending the unemployment [insurance.] My hope is that we could deal with the tax issue as a standalone. But I understand that Washington is the capital of horse-trading, and it sounds like there’s some good old-fashioned horse-trading going on.”
Reed, who filled former Rep. Eric Massa’s (D-N.Y.) seat, added, “I firmly believe we need to live within our means.”
As rumors of a deal circulated Monday afternoon, Arkansas GOP Rep.-elect Steve Womack strongly echoed his new colleague’s position.
Womack on Monday said that he and other members of the massive incoming class heard the message from voters: Cut spending.
“There’s a limit to just how much this country can afford,” Womack said.
The mayor of Rogers, Ark., went on to say that enough was enough when it comes to jobless benefits.
“We’ve already gone to 99 weeks — that’s a better part of two years — and at some point in time, I fear that we’re going to create an entire culture of joblessness in our nation. … There has to be a point in time out there where we have to come to the realization that it’s no longer affordable,” he said.
Still, Womack said he understands there needs to be some give-and-take: “I realize at some point in time there has to be a deal struck in order to avoid the prospect of a tax increase on rank-and-file Americans. I certainly don’t want to see that happen.”
Republicans are somewhat split on the issue. Twenty-one House Republicans voted with Democrats to approve an emergency unemployment extension on Nov. 18. That measure failed in a vote of 258-154 because it was considered under special rules that require two-thirds approval for passage. Eleven Democrats voted against continuing the jobless benefits.
During the summer, now-Sen.-elect Rand Paul (R-Ky.) said, “In Europe, they give about a year of unemployment. We’re up to two years in America.”
Paul added, “As bad as it sounds, ultimately we do have to sometimes accept a wage that’s less than we had at our previous job in order to get back to work and allow the economy to get started again. Nobody likes that, but it may be one of the tough-love things that has to happen.”
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), who could face a primary challenge in 2012, has introduced legislation calling for welfare and unemployment beneficiaries to pass a drug test to qualify for the government programs.
Jason Taylor, a Central Michigan University professor of economics, told a Ways and Means subcommittee earlier this year that extending unemployment benefits beyond the customary 26 weeks is counterproductive.
Taylor, who was invited to testify by Ways and Means Republicans, stated that “the longer the time frame people are eligible for such benefits, the longer it takes for unemployment rates to fall.”
Most Democrats strongly disagree with that claim.
House Education and Labor Committee Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) this summer said, “If you’re unemployed, what the f—- difference does that make to you? If you had a job, you would take the job.
“You’ve got millions of people out of work, and the idea that they all have a clever scheme that they’re going to live high off the hog on unemployment — people are losing their houses because of unemployment,” he said at the time. “So you think what? That this is a good thing? ‘Unemployment check, I’m losing my house, this is cool’?”