House Republicans voice opposition to Senate payroll tax cut package

The two-month payroll tax cut extension that passed the Senate on Saturday may not be a done deal.

Rank-and-file House Republicans voiced extreme opposition to the package during a conference call Saturday afternoon in which Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) briefed them on the legislation and their options to respond, according to two sources with knowledge of the call.

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One source said Boehner spoke approvingly of the deal as a win for the GOP but that three other members of the leadership team - Majority Leader Eric Cantor (Va.), Whip Kevin McCarthy (Calif.) and Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Tex.) - all criticized it. The source said that with the exception of Reps. Tom Cole (Okla.) and Walter Jones (N.C.), Boehner was the only person on the call to praise the deal.

Rep. James Lankford (R-Okla.) said Boehner cited as a victory the inclusion of a provision forcing the Obama administration to expedite a decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which it had delayed until after the 2012 election. But Lankford said Boehner spoke briefly and was not overwhelmingly supportive of the Senate deal.

“I didn’t hear anyone give overwhelming support for it,” Lankford said. “This is not something we should support.”

He said members were particularly angry at the two-month extension, saying it seemed like the Senate was more concerned with getting home for Christmas than resolving the issue for American families and businesses. There was little confidence, he said, that an extra two months would make the problem easier to resolve.

“It makes it more complicated and more insecure for every business in America,” Lankford said. The Senate “is trying to make our job simpler by making everyone else in America’s job harder.”

No plans for a vote next week were announced.

A GOP leadership aide said Boehner laid out three options for the House: accept the Senate bill, go to a conference committee to reconcile the broader House legislation with the Senate bill or amend the Senate bill and send it back.


A source said Cantor said the Senate bill was a bad deal for the middle class and wanted a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut, while McCarthy worried that the timing would allow President Obama to berate Congress during his State of the Union address in January.

“Members are overwhelmingly disappointed in the Senate's decision to just 'kick the can down the road' for two months,” the aide said.

Boehner is scheduled to appear on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday morning. In recent days he had left Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to negotiate the final deal, giving the House little apparent input.

House Democratic leaders said Saturday they were disappointed in the two-month extension but urged the House to pass it anyway.

"House Democrats will return to Washington to take up this legislation without delay, and we will keep up the fight to extend these provisions for a full year," Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said in a statement.

The House passed a one-year extension of the payroll tax cut last week, coupled with reforms and an extension of the unemployment insurance program and a fix to the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors.

The Senate could only agree to a two-month extension amid disagreements between Republicans and Democrats over how to pay for the bill. The Senate earlier Saturday adjourned for the year, meaning any action by the House other than passing the Senate version without changes could result in a tax increase for 160 million Americans.

Senate Republicans had hailed as a victory the inclusion of the Keystone provision.

Senate Republicans had hailed as a victory the inclusion of a provision forcing the administration to expedite a decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline, which it had delayed until after the 2012 election.

This story was updated at 6 p.m.