House to vote Monday on payroll tax cut bill

The House will vote Monday evening on the Senate's two-month payroll tax cut extension, the office of Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said Sunday night.

The announcement comes as expectations for an agreement on extending the payroll tax cut fell into doubt Sunday after Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that House Republicans opposed compromise legislation that passed the Senate in an overwhelming 89-10 vote Saturday.

Unless dozens of Republicans defect, the Senate’s bill is expected to fail in the House, and Cantor's office advised members that additional votes related to the payroll tax cut are possible.

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A Cantor spokeswoman said those votes have yet to be determined. The House could try to amend the Senate bill or approve a motion to go to a conference committee to reconcile the Senate bill with a version the House passed last week.

The Senate measure, negotiated by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), extended the payroll tax cut and also included a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and a two-month freeze of scheduled cuts to Medicare payments to doctors. Only seven Senate Republicans voted against the measure.

Boehner said Sunday, however, that the Senate bill did not have the support of rank-and-file House Republicans. "It's pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill," Boehner announced on NBC's "Meet the Press."

“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.”

The Speaker suggested a conference committee could reconcile the Senate bill with a House-passed, one-year payroll tax cut extension.

McConnell backed up the House GOP's call, with an aide suggesting Sunday that Senate Democrats should be open to changing terms of the payroll tax deal.  

“The House and the President both want a full-year extension. The best way to resolve the difference between the two-month extension and the full-year bill, and provide certainty for job creators, employees and the long-term unemployed, is through regular order, as the Speaker suggested,” said Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell.

Senate Democrats led by Reid rejected those calls — the majority leader called for House Republicans to vote on the Senate measure. 

“Instead of threatening middle-class families with a thousand-dollar tax hike, Speaker Boehner should bring up the bipartisan compromise that Senator McConnell and I negotiated, and which passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican votes,” Reid said in a statement. 

“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,” he added. An aide for Reid said that the Senate majority leader would not call back senators if the House rejected the two-month compromise bill. The Senate is not scheduled to return to regular session until Monday, Jan. 23.

Reid said that he had negotiated the compromise with McConnell at Boehner’s insistence.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said Sunday that Boehner had empowered McConnell to negotiate the payroll tax deal for him and would be breaking his word to Senate leaders if he did not schedule a vote. 

"Last week, Speaker Boehner sat in a meeting with Leader Reid and Leader McConnell and he gave Leader McConnell his proxy to negotiate a bipartisan compromise,” Schumer said. “He made public comments promising to live by whatever agreement the Senate reached.”

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, disputed Schumer's characterization of the meeting and said the claim that McConnell was acting as a proxy for Boehner was “not true.” Boehner’s office said the Speaker was not involved in negotiations between Reid and McConnell to craft the payroll tax extension. 

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Sunday accused Boehner of “kow-towing” to the Tea Party and threatening middle-class Americans with a tax increase.

“By holding up this bipartisan compromise, Tea Party House Republicans are walking away once again, showing their extremism and clearly demonstrating that they never intended to give the middle class a tax cut,” Pelosi said in a statement.

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, also criticized House Republicans and said they would be responsible for increasing taxes on 160 million people if they failed to approve the Senate compromise.

"As the president said yesterday, it is inexcusable to do anything less than extend this tax cut for the entire year, and Congress must work on a one year deal. But they should pass the two month extension now to avoid a devastating tax hike from hitting the middle class in just 13 days,” he said in a statement.

Alexander Bolton and Meghashyam Mali contributed to this post.