Upton: Payroll tax deal a victory for GOP

As President Obama claimed victory Friday on the payroll tax deal, one top Republican had a message for the Democrats: Not so fast.

"I wouldn't call it a victory for just the president," Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.) said on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers," set to air Sunday.

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"The proof in the pudding is, more than half the Republicans voted for it."

Upton, chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and a member of the panel that penned the deal, said Republicans can return to their districts for the Presidents Day recess taking credit for the hike in doctors' Medicare payments, spectrum sales he said could create up to 300,000 jobs and a middle class tax cut estimated to benefit 160 million workers.

"The payroll tax, if not extended, was going to be a tax hike on every working American," he said.


Upton's remarks, which came just hours after lawmakers in both chambers approved the bipartisan package, are an early indication that Republicans want to emphasize the bipartisan nature of the deal in hopes of preventing Democrats from getting all the credit for it on the campaign trail this year.

Extending the payroll tax holiday has been a major plank of Obama's jobs agenda, and Republicans – many of whom opposed the cut altogether – suffered politically in December when they resisted a Senate proposal to extend the cut through February.

Behind Obama, Democrats were quick to trumpet Friday's passage of the 10-month deal, which sailed through both chambers with broad bipartisan support.

"You guys may remember, this middle-class tax cut is something I proposed in my jobs bill back in September," Obama said during a Friday visit to a Boeing factory in Everett, Wash. "It's a big deal, and I want to thank Congress for listening to the voices of the American people."

But Upton and other leading Republicans say there's plenty in the package for conservatives, particularly cuts in federal pension benefits and a decrease in the number of weeks the unemployed can collect emergency payments.

"Unemployment reforms are something we've long sought," Rep. Kevin Brady (R-Texas), another member of the payroll tax conference panel, said this week. "It's important for states to be innovative."

The legislation extends the popular payroll tax cut, emergency unemployment benefits and Medicare pay increases for doctors through 2012, setting the stage for a wild lame duck session at the end of the year when the pressure will be on to continue those benefits.

Friday's votes followed weeks of tense negotiations between the 20 members of the bipartisan committee charged with ironing out an agreement.

Negotiators overcame a major hurdle Monday, when GOP leaders announced they wouldn't insist on paying for the $100 billion payroll tax provision. Democrats had hammered Republicans on the issue, wondering why the middle class tax cuts must be offset while the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthy, which Congress extended after 2010's wave elections, were not paid for.

Protesting the lack of a payroll tax offset, many conservative Republicans voted against the package Friday.

Upton this week downplayed the Republicans' reversal on the offset issue. All things considered, he said, getting the deal passed and extending the payroll tax cut was more vital than the deficit spending concerns.

"If you let this tax cut expire, it would be a tax increase on every working American," he said. "And in a time of a recession, that is not the thing that we ought to do."