By Erik Wasson, Russell Berman and Molly K. Hooper - 12/20/11 03:44 AM EST
House Republicans plan to vote midday Tuesday on a measure to go to conference with the Senate on the payroll tax holiday.
The House adopted this action after delaying a planned vote on the payroll tax holiday approved by the Senate that could have taken place very early Tuesday morning.
The party whip, Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.), attributed the delay in the vote to the Republican pledge to not pass legislation in the middle of the night, as they had previously criticized House Democrats for doing. The votes on Tuesday, he said, will occur “in the light of day.”
Critically, however, it would be expressed as a vote in favor of going to conference, and not a vote against cutting the payroll tax. Originally the GOP had planned to hold a vote on agreeing to the Senate bill, but under the rule adopted by the House Rules Committee on Monday night, the House will no longer vote on the Senate bill.
“Our members do not want to just punt and do a two-month, short-term fix where we have to come back and do this again,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters. “We’re here. We’re willing to work.”
Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) said House Republicans “outright reject the attempt by the Senate to kick the can down the road for 60 days. It’s an unworkable solution.”
Monday night's events followed an intense effort by Democrats to raise pressure on Republicans to approve the Senate bill extending the payroll tax holiday for two months. It was approved in a bipartisan 89-10 vote on Saturday.
Throughout the day, the White House and Democrats in both chambers insisted Republicans would be raising taxes if they did not approve the Senate measure, which the Democrats insisted was based on careful negotiations between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.).
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) accused Republicans of “stalling” on the payroll tax bill and questioned whether they supported an extension of the tax cut at all.
“The Republicans do not want a payroll tax cut for the middle class,” Pelosi told reporters after the GOP announced the delay in the vote. She said the bill the House passed last week, which extended the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for a full year, contained “poison pills” and the “seeds of its own destruction.”
“Let’s just get down to it. Put the bill on the floor. Take their chances with their own caucus, see if they’re willing to vote for it,” Pelosi said.
House Republicans also came under pressure from a few Senate Republicans, including Sen. Scott Brown of Massachusetts, who face tough campaigns in 2012.
"The House Republicans’ plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong," Brown said in a statement.
In a rare move, House GOP leaders sought to align themselves with President Obama, saying their push for a yearlong extension was “exactly what the president asked us to do.”
But the White House on Monday urged the House to approve the Senate tax bill, arguing this was the best way to ensure the payroll tax cut did not expire. White House press secretary Jay Carney also tweaked Boehner, saying the Speaker supported the Senate bill during a Saturday call with his conference, according to media reports.
“He was for it before he was against it,” Carney said.
Boehner was pressed by reporters after the GOP conference on why he did not warn McConnell that the compromise he struck with Reid would not fly with the House GOP.
“I made it clear to Senator Reid and Senator McConnell that the House was not going to enter into negotiations until such time as the Senate did its job,” Boehner said. “It was time for the Senate to produce something. We disagreed with what the Senate produced.”
He did not answer directly when asked if McConnell had struck “a bad deal.” “They did their job. They produced a bill. The House disagrees with it,” the Speaker said.
House freshmen are adamant in their opposition to the Senate bill and favor a year-long extension of the payroll tax holiday, but centrist Republicans in the conference would not come out against the short-term bill when asked about it after the GOP conference meeting.
With Democrats planning to support the measure, Republicans could not afford many defections in a vote on the Senate measure.
Boehner insisted the House would be able to reject the Senate bill, however, and Republicans at the Monday meeting said few if any of their colleagues spoke out in favor of the two-month extension at the meeting.
One exception was Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.), who told The Hill, “I’m thinking about it, I really am.” Rep. Chris Gibson (R-N.Y.) earlier on Monday said he would support the Senate bill.
Another possible question mark, centrist New York Republican Rep. Peter King, told The Hill that he would support the leadership's course of action on the tax bill.
A vote just on a motion to convene a conference committee could give politically vulnerable members the wiggle room to support Boehner without entirely voting against a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut.
"I think we have to vote down what the Senate sent back but there is a way to do it where we are voting 'yes,' " said Rep. Michael Burgess (R-Texas).
Pelosi said she would not appoint House Democratic conferees if a conference committee was approved and said Republicans had reversed their plan to bring up the Senate-passed bill for an up-or-down vote. Democrats have argued it is nonsensical to think that a conference committee could act in time for Christmas, given the procedural hurdles in the Senate.
“Have you ever covered the United States Senate? Do you know how long it takes to get something done over there?” Pelosi asked a reporter.
Instead of a “motion to concur” with the Senate bill, which could send the bill to the president’s desk, the House will vote on a “motion to disagree” that will simultaneously set up a conference committee.
“My guess is they were afraid their members are not going to stick with them on voting against the tax cut, because I do not believe all Republicans in that caucus are against a payroll tax cut,” Pelosi said.
The move allows Republicans to argue they were not rejecting a tax cut but merely following the legislative process set up by the Constitution.
“Speaker Boehner should allow an up-or-down vote on the compromise that Senator McConnell and I negotiated at Speaker Boehner’s request, and which was supported by 89 Republican and Democratic senators,” Reid said in a statement Monday night. “With millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, it would be unconscionable for Speaker Boehner to block a bipartisan agreement that would protect middle-class families from the thousand-dollar tax increase looming on January first. It is time for Speaker Boehner to follow through.”
—This story was posted at 8:33 p.m. and updated at 10:44 p.m.