House GOP raises pressure on Democrats in payroll tax fight

House Republicans increased pressure on Senate Democrats to submit a plan for paying for a payroll tax cut extension amid signs that the negotiations are following a well-worn path to an acrimonious standoff.

“We have significant concerns about whether Senate Democrats are really willing to step up and work with House Republicans on the payroll tax cut bill,” Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said at a press conference Tuesday. “It’s pretty clear that Senate Democrats have never come to the table with a plan to offset this new spending that they’re all for. I’m concerned about the actions that they’ve taken.”

Congress has until the end of February to extend the payroll tax cut, unemployment insurance benefits and a fix to the Medicare reimbursement rate for doctors. Republicans and Democrats are deadlocked, as they were in December, over how to pay for the measures. Republicans passed a bill that included a pay freeze for federal workers, while Democrats have proposed various tax hikes and loophole closures to offset the cost.

A House-Senate conference committee has made little headway, and the two sides are back to trading blame for the lack of progress. Boehner’s comments followed a joint statement he issued with Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) on Monday evening warning about the stalemate.

House Republicans have sought to project a unified front this month after divisions within their ranks contributed to what leaders acknowledged was a politically mishandled endgame that resulted in their accepting a Senate-passed two-month extension of the payroll tax cut.

Cantor warned on Tuesday that Congress has “a very narrow window” to produce bipartisan results with the 2012 election campaign gearing up.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has said Democrats are drafting their own "backup" plan for the payroll tax, but Republicans doubt any proposal he comes up with could actually pass the Senate.

Democrats blamed Republicans for dragging their feet on the conference committee in January and say they have maintained a “my-way-or-the-highway” approach by refusing to come off the yearlong payroll tax bill the House GOP passed in December. Democrats and the Obama administration said that measure contained unacceptable and extraneous add-on provisions. Boehner countered that the measure drew largely on proposals included in the president’s own budget.

“If my Democrat colleagues don’t want those offsets, where are theirs? It’s as simple as that,” Boehner said.

The Republicans spoke shortly before another meeting of the House-Senate conference committee began Tuesday.