Boehner in no mood for celebration

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Republican leaders are begrudgingly backing the payroll tax cut deal completed on Thursday, but as with previous bipartisan accords, few of them are celebrating.

Boehner called the deal a "fair agreement" before quickly shifting to a sharp attack on President Obama’s economic stewardship. He lamented that the payroll tax cut was only needed in the first place because the administration had failed to sufficiently revive the economy.

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“The agreement that’s been reached to stop a tax hike on middle-class Americans is a fair agreement and one that I support,” Boehner said in opening a Thursday press conference.”Let’s be honest, this is an economic relief package, not a bill that’s going to grow the economy and create jobs.”

Boehner’s tone reflected a dispirited House Republican Conference that has viewed the payroll tax cut as an issue to dispense with, not a victory to champion. The response also follows a pattern for the GOP majority, which has appeared reluctant at times to celebrate any legislative agreements that are the product of compromise.

The payroll agreement came together only after a major GOP concession, as Boehner backed down from his demand that an extension of the tax cut be fully paid for with spending cuts.

The Speaker made no mention of the more favorable provisions for Republicans in the legislation, including reforms to the unemployment insurance program and cuts to Obama’s signature healthcare law.

Instead, GOP leaders tried to shift attention back to Obama’s record, issuing coordinated statements denouncing the 2009 stimulus package on the eve of its third anniversary.

Boehner criticized Obama for abandoning the legislative process, referring to a White House statement last month that identified the payroll tax cut as the final”must-pass” bill before the November election.

“According to the White House, when he signs this bill, he’s finished,” Boehner said.”For those of you who haven’t noticed, the president checked out last Labor Day, and has been unengaged in leading our country ever since. It has been one non-stop campaign trip after another. So he can campaign all he wants, but the Republicans are going to stay focused on jobs.”

Both the House and Senate are expected to vote on the final legislation after a House-Senate conference report was signed Thursday by 17 out of 20 negotiators. Only the three Senate Republicans on the panel refused to sign off.

The panel’s chairman, Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), called the agreement”actually a positive moment” in a much-maligned Congress.
“Whenever we can get something done here that’s bipartisan, and that has a positive impact on jobs, that’s a good result,” said Sen. Bob Casey Jr. (D-Pa.), one of four Senate Democrats who signed the conference report.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said most Democrats would likely support the agreement, which could allow dozens of conservative Republicans to break with party leaders and oppose it.

“I don’t see a scenario where our members will vote against it,” Pelosi said.

Democratic support will not be unanimous, however.

Minutes after the conference report was signed, the second-ranking House Democrat, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (Md.), announced his opposition over cuts to the federal employee pension program. Hoyer represents more than 100,000 current and retired federal employees and had worked late into the evening Wednesday with Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) to bolster protections in the final agreement.

Cardin and Van Hollen both signed the conference report, but Hoyer, who was not on the negotiating panel, said he could not support the bill.”When we work to protect the middle class, it is only right to protect them all, and federal workers are hardworking Americans who have already contributed $60 billion to deficit reduction over the next decade," Hoyer said in a statement.”Our deficit problems were not created by these men and women, and they will not be solved by only asking them to contribute.

“We must stop targeting these hardworking men and women while not asking others to contribute their fair share," he added.”For that reason, I cannot support this bill.”

Mike Lillis contributed.