By Russell Berman - 12/13/11 06:15 PM EST
The No. 2 House Democrat, Rep. Steny Hoyer (Md.), told reporters Tuesday that Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) assured him that House Republicans would not leave Washington until an agreement on extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits was reached.
Hoyer acknowledged on Tuesday that there was “concern” that Republicans would pass a spending bill for 2012 and then leave town for the holidays, forcing the Senate to accept a GOP payroll tax bill that President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders have vowed to reject.
Asked to respond to Hoyer’s comments, a Boehner spokesman, Michael Steel, said: “We will be waiting for the Senate to act.”
The sequencing of several year-end measures has become a point of dispute in recent days, as Republicans have charged Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) with holding the $1 trillion omnibus spending bill “hostage” until the GOP gives in on the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits. Boehner told reporters Tuesday morning that an agreement on the spending bill was complete, while Democrats say some issues remain.
“They’ve shook hands and it’s done,” the Speaker said about the appropriations bill.
Hoyer acknowledged that the substance of the legislation was “98 percent done.”
“There’s still some lingering issues that I think are workable. So I think the bill itself is worked out,” he said.
At the same time, the Maryland Democrat rejected the charge that Reid was obstructing the bill.
“The Republicans are charging us with obstructionism? That’s the party that has held up almost everything for years in the United States Senate with their minority. It’s not a credible attack on Democrats,” Hoyer said. “Senator Reid is simply trying to ensure that all the business that we need to do” gets done.
The House is scheduled to vote later Tuesday on a GOP payroll tax proposal that includes a reform and extension of unemployment benefits and a fix for the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors. Democrats are opposed to the bill because it includes unrelated provisions, principally a measure forcing the Obama administration to fast-track a decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
Hoyer called the Keystone provision a “stick in the eye” of Democrats and predicted “an overwhelming majority” would vote against the Republicans bill.
“Our expectation is that if they are going to pass this one, they’re going to need 218 Republicans,” he said. One House Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.), has announced he is backing the legislation.
If the spending bill is not approved by Friday, a continuing resolution would be needed to keep the government opened, and Hoyer said one might be necessary.