House GOP refuses to cave on payroll tax

House Republicans are refusing to cave on a two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut and jobless benefits, despite mounting pressure from within their own party.

For the fifth straight day, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) called on President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to negotiate a one-year extension of measures set to expire at the end of the year. He and other GOP leaders gave no indication that the House would accede to demands from across the government that they accept a bipartisan Senate compromise and go home for the holidays.

ADVERTISEMENT
“It’s time for us to sit down and have a serious negotiation and solve this problem so that American workers don’t see their taxes go up in January,” Boehner said at a Thursday news conference convened with the eight Republicans he appointed as negotiators.

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) noted Obama’s excursion on Wednesday to do some holiday shopping with his dog, Bo, and he invited both of them to come to the Capitol to negotiate.

“He could bring his dog up here. We’re pet-friendly,” Cantor quipped.

The House GOP stance is a rebuke to party elders who have called on the conference in recent days to back down and pass the two-month Senate extension, which drew support from a vast majority of Republican senators. Boehner has received little support from Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), who negotiated the Senate deal and who, on Thursday, called on the House to pass that bill if Democrats agreed to appoint negotiators to a conference committee.

Democratic leaders once again urged Boehner to call up and pass the Senate legislation immediately, and said they would agree to do so by unanimous consent so all 435 members don’t have to be called back to Washington.

The House Republicans acknowledged they did not have the edge in the public relations battle.

“We’re not doing this for the politics. You all have pointed that out to us pretty clearly,” a House negotiator, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), told reporters.

Boehner added: “Politics will be politics. Our team believes it’s always right to do the best thing.”

He and other Republicans argued that the Senate bill would prolong uncertainty, was unworkable and would harm job creation.

“The fact is, we can do better,” Boehner said.

While Cantor minimized the differences between the House and Senate, saying they could be worked out “in an hour or two,” another House Republican, freshman Rep. Tom Reed (N.Y.) said there were “major substantive differences” between the two bills.

A Boehner aide said the Speaker called Obama on Thursday morning to ask him to send White House economic advisers to negotiate a one-year extension with Congress.

“The Speaker explained his concern that flaws in the Senate-passed bill will be unworkable for many small business job creators,” the aide said. “He reiterated that if their shared goal is a one-year bill, there is no reason an agreement cannot be reached before year’s end.

“The president declined the Speaker’s offer.”

Obama and Boehner also spoke briefly on the phone Wednesday, aides to both men said.

The White House released its own readout of the call shorty after Boehner’s office did.

“The president reiterated to the Speaker that the only viable option currently on the table is for the House of Representatives to pass the bipartisan Senate compromise,” the White House said in a statement, adding that “the president told Speaker Boehner that he is committed to begin working immediately on a full-year agreement once the House passes” the Senate bill.

— This story was updated at 11:30 a.m.