Republican leaders say they’ll have the votes to pass payroll-tax bill

House Republican leaders on Tuesday predicted they will have the votes to pass legislation to extend a payroll tax cut.

The leaders are “close” to securing enough support to pass the bill, members leaving a closed-door GOP conference meeting said Tuesday. The package would also extend unemployment benefits and prevent a cut in Medicare payments to physicians.

Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), the GOP’s chief vote counter in the House, told reporters categorically that the bill would pass.

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House Democrats are whipping against the bill, meaning the GOP will need to depend mostly upon its members to move it. Republicans have added several sweeteners to entice conservatives, including language that would require the administration to approve the Keystone XL pipeline running from Alberta to the Gulf Coast within 60 days.  

In a final sales pitch before a scheduled vote Tuesday, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told his members the bill "is a good piece of legislation" that has "been worked on by everybody."

"[Boehner said] it needs to get done, and instead of allowing the Senate to stab the country in the back, we need to finish our work," said Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.), the chairman of the Republican Policy Committee.

Price said he believes leadership had the votes to pass the payroll package. "Oh we got the votes," Price said, characterizing the mood in the conference as "get 'er done."

One of the chief critics of the bill, Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.), said he was resigned to the bill passing. "The votes are there. They have been for a while," he told reporters.

As for what happens after the House acts, Flake said the Speaker's message was: "Wait for the Senate and respond.”

GOP leaders took turns attacking Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and President Obama for threatening to reject the legislation, which they said incorporates Democratic ideas. 

The bill "is not our dream proposal — believe me," said House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.). "But it is and does represent a middle ground. ... It's time for the president to compromise as well." 

"If Senator Reid wants to hold up a jobs bill, then he will go on Santa's naughty list," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling (R-Texas), chairman of the House Republican Conference. 

Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) said leaders tried to encourage those “sitting on the fence” to get behind the payroll tax bill, which is set for an early-afternoon vote. He said that he had switched to a 'yes' vote because he was pleased about reforms to unemployment insurance in the bill that would limit benefits.

But Chaffetz said other GOP lawmakers remain worried that extending the payroll tax weakens Social Security by cutting off a funding stream, and there is unrest in the conference about the legislation.

“I think there are people who are still officially undecided, but the tone of the sentiment in there indicates that we will be successful,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said.

Conservatives like Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) expressed concern about the measure’s effects on Social Security, and even the idea of such a broad package. 

“It’s been a tough balancing act. It really has been,” Mulvaney said. “This is the first time we’ve had to do this year, because it’s the first time we’ve really taken a bill and added a bunch of different things to it.”

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But others on the conference’s right flank were more ready to jump aboard. Rep. Lynn Westmoreland (R-Ga.), who voted against this summer’s debt-ceiling deal, said that while the measure was far from perfect, he hoped other House Republicans would come around.

“I do think that this leans you way towards what we’ve been trying to do all year, and create jobs,” Westmoreland said. “Rather than what this administration and the Senate’s been trying to do and just overregulate the working man.”


Erik Wasson, Russell Berman, Molly K. Hooper and Bernie Becker contributed.

Last updated at 11:14 a.m.