By Russell Berman - 12/18/11 04:32 PM EST
Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said Sunday that neither he nor rank-and-file House Republicans supported the Senate’s two-month payroll tax cut extension, casting doubt on the chances for an agreement less than a week before Christmas.
“It’s pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill,” Boehner said on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” a day after Republican lawmakers voiced strong opposition to a measure that passed the Senate on an overwhelming 89-10 vote on Saturday.
The House will return to Washington on Monday night, and GOP leaders said the lower chamber will either amend the Senate bill or approve a formal conference committee to bridge the gap between that version and a House-passed, one-year extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits.
“How can you do tax policy for two months?” Boehner asked. “I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road. The American people are tired of that.”
He suggested a conference committee between the House and Senate, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) immediately called for the House to bring up the Senate bill and said if it didn’t, “Republicans will be forcing a thousand-dollar tax increase on middle class families on January 1st."
“I would hate to think that Speaker Boehner is refusing to act on this bipartisan compromise because he is afraid it will actually pass, but I cannot imagine any other reason why he would not bring it up for a vote,” Reid said in a statement. “When we met last week, Speaker Boehner requested that [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell [(Ky.)] and I work out a compromise. Neither side got everything they wanted, but we forged a middle ground that passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority.”
The Speaker’s office has said Boehner was not involved in the negotiations between Reid and McConnell. The leaders agreed on the two-month extension after talks broke down over how to pay for a full-year of the tax cut.
The White House has backed the Senate bill, and the director of the National Economic Council, Gene Sperling, on Sunday voiced skepticism that the House could change the Senate bill and get it to the president’s desk by Christmas.
Boehner touted the House-passed payroll tax bill, which also extended and reformed unemployment insurance benefits but included offsetting spending cuts that the White House opposed and threatened to veto.
“The president said we shouldn’t go on vacation until we get our work done, and frankly House Republicans agree,” the Speaker said. “We’ve got two weeks to get it done. Let’s do it the right way.”
A source on a private House GOP conference call said Boehner spoke approvingly of the Senate 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 (Texas) — 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.
A Boehner aide said that on the conference call with House Republicans, the Speaker 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. Boehner did not voice support for the Senate deal as a whole, the aide said.
The Senate compromise puts Boehner in the rare position of opposing legislation negotiated by McConnell and backed by a majority of Republican senators.
Asked if Congress could get a payroll tax deal by Christmas, Boehner replied: “How about tomorrow?”
When pressed if he thought it would happen, he said: “I don’t know. All I know is that it’s time to do this the right way. It’s time to do the right thing for the American people. No kicking the can down the road.”
—This story was updated at 12:23 p.m.