Boehner gets tough with Senate: Time to act on House payroll tax extension

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Wednesday implored the Senate to act on the House-passed payroll-tax bill, making a bid to wrap up Congress’s work for the year and head home for the holidays.

The House approved a GOP measure Tuesday evening that includes an extension of the payroll-tax cut, unemployment benefits and a fix to the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors.

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Boehner voiced the frustration of many House members at the notoriously deliberative upper chamber, saying he did not know when the House could adjourn but hoped it would be “as soon as possible.”

“Guess what? It’s time for the Unites States Senate to act, and they’re going to act, because we can sit here and stare at each other in the face for as long as it takes, but they are going to act,” the Speaker said.

Minutes later, the Senate froze, beset once again by a political and procedural squabble.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) tried to bring up the House-passed payroll-tax bill for a vote with the intention of summarily rejecting it, but Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) objected. McConnell pushed for the Senate to first vote on an omnibus spending bill that would fund much of the federal government through 2012 and avert a shutdown after Friday night.

Reid blocked the move, insisting the spending bill was not completed and pushing instead for a stopgap measure to buy Congress a few more days to work out a deal on the payroll tax and finish the final details of the omnibus.

The two leaders ended their exchange with no immediate path forward. McConnell urged Reid to negotiate with Boehner, but Reid said “the Speaker can’t negotiate with me until this bill is killed” — referring to the payroll-tax measure.

“Let’s get this vote over with and then we can begin serious negotiations,” Reid said.

Earlier, Boehner spoke at an event sponsored by Politico. He downplayed the gap between the GOP legislation and what President Obama and Senate Democrats have demanded on the payroll tax and unemployment insurance.

“The president has — there’s no serious objections with this,” Boehner said. “It may not be quite the way they would put it together, but there are Democrat ideas and Republican ideas, and while we have our fights over issues and strongly held beliefs, the American people expect us to find common ground and move the ball down the field. That’s exactly what we have in this package.”

Obama has threatened to veto the package over a number of issues, and Democrats oppose an unrelated provision that forces the administration to speed up a decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Boehner said he can’t predict how the final days of the legislative year would unfold.

“I don’t think anybody knows how this is going to play out over the course of this week and next week,” he said. “I think it’s important that we finish our work and we get members home.”