Hoyer: GOP blocking payroll tax bill to sink economy

Faced with a March 1 deadline for extending the payroll tax holiday, emergency unemployment benefits and a hike in Medicare doctor payments, both sides are increasingly blaming the other for the impasse over how to fund the package.

Republicans have proposed offsetting the bill with cuts elsewhere in the budget, while Democrats want to cover the tab with a higher tax on oil companies and the wealthiest Americans.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) on Tuesday tossed the latest barb in the partisan accusation war.

“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,” Boehner said during a press conference. “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."

Some conservatives contend Democrats are delaying passage of the bill in order to prolong debate on the payroll tax cut extension, which has so far played to the Democrats' political advantage — a notion Hoyer rejected outright.

"We're for this. We want to see it passed," Hoyer said. "If the delay is the issue here — if you believe, as I do, that this policy was successful in helping us spur the economy — then delay [acts] to the benefit of Republicans who want this economy to stumble."

Hoyer noted that GOP leaders initially rejected the payroll tax holiday as "sugar-high economics," then changed course only because of the popularity of the measure.

"When a party that has its leadership saying, 'We don't like this idea,' then says, 'The reason we're not getting it done is the Democrats are delaying,' that's a tough sell. … If you're not for it, tell the American people you're not for it," Hoyer said.

Hoyer also pointed out that Republicans, as their first major act after 2010's wave elections, extended the Bush-era tax cuts — including those on the wealthiest Americans — without offsetting the cost.

"If this were a tax cut for millionaires," Hoyer said of the payroll tax holiday, "it would fly through here like greased lightening – without a pay-for."

With neither side ceding any ground over offsets, some observers say a short-term extension will be needed to prevent an expiration of the current benefits. Hoyer, though, rejected a shorter-term package as anything but a last resort.

"I don't think a short-term extension is good policy," Hoyer said. "Talking about a short-term [extension] at this point in time is not helpful, and very frankly I don't think it's probably doable in any event."

Leaders of both parties concede they're running out of time to reach a deal.

"The clock is ticking," House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said Thursday.

"The clock is ticking," Boehner said Friday.

At least on that, the sides agree.