By Alexander Bolton - 12/14/11 03:06 PM EST
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Wednesday objected to a Democratic request to vote on a House-passed extension of the payroll-tax holiday, citing concerns about a possible government shutdown.
Senate Democratic Leader Harry Reid (Nev.) said McConnell blocked a vote on the bill because Republican senators did not want to take a stance on controversial provisions in the bill, such as requiring the recipients of unemployment benefits to take drug tests.
McConnell said Congress should first take up an omnibus spending bill to fund the government for fiscal 2012.
With government funding due to run out Friday, McConnell said averting a government shutdown should be the first priority. He suggested Congress could revisit the payroll-tax debate later this month or early next year. The payroll-tax holiday is scheduled to expire Dec. 31.
“Let’s deal first with the deadline that happens this Friday, two days from now,” McConnell said. “Fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year and then turn immediately to the payroll-tax extension.”
McConnell has accused Reid of holding the omnibus spending bill, which Republicans want to pass, hostage to gain leverage in negotiations over the payroll-tax holiday.
Reid said the omnibus is not ready for a vote because there are unresolved issues related to Cuba travel, the Defense Department’s use of coal, new light bulb standards and funding for the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.
Reid wants to demonstrate to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) that the House-passed payroll-tax legislation cannot pass the upper chamber, so they can begin negotiating a compromise.
“It’s time to get this vote over with so real negotiations can begin to prevent a tax increase on 160 million middle-class Americans,” he said.
Reid suggested a possible route to compromise Tuesday when he said he would be willing to extend the tax holiday without paying for its $120 billion cost. The cost of the extension would rise to $180 billion if the tax break were expanded. Democrats have called for a tax increase on income higher than $1 million to replenish the Social Security Trust Fund, but Republicans have rejected that idea.
Reid accused McConnell of performing an about-face after the GOP leader earlier in the week demanded a vote on the House bill.
On Tuesday, McConnell said: “We need to see if the House bill, which will pass, we think, with a significant vote, can pass the Senate. I hope it will.”
— This article was last updated at 11:29 a.m.