Reid aide: Senate will not return if House kills payroll tax compromise

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) does not plan to bring the Senate back in session next week, even if the House rejects a compromise bill to extend the payroll tax holiday, said his spokesman.

When asked whether Reid would call senators back to town next week if House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) refuses to schedule a vote or the House defeats a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, Adam Jentleson, Reid’s spokesman, said: “No.”

“There is absolutely no reason the House should not pass the overwhelming bipartisan compromise passed by the Senate,” said Jentleson.

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The Senate approved the legislation, which includes a two-month extension of unemployment benefits and a two-month freeze of scheduled cuts to Medicare payments to doctors, by a vote of 89-10 on Saturday. 

The Senate is not scheduled to return to regular session until Jan. 23, although it has planned cursory pro-forma sessions before then to stop President Obama from making recess appointments. 

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) remained silent Sunday morning about the prospect of senators returning to Washington next week.

Reid on Sunday morning called on Boehner to bring the payroll holiday extension to the House floor for an immediate vote.

“Instead of threatening middle-class families with a thousand-dollar tax hike, Speaker Boehner should bring up the bipartisan compromise that Senator McConnell and I negotiated, and which passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican votes,” Reid said in a statement.

“I would hate to think that Speaker Boehner is refusing to act on this bipartisan compromise because he is afraid it will actually pass, but I cannot imagine any other reason why he would not bring it up for a vote,” he added.

Reid noted that he and McConnell negotiated the compromise at Boehner’s request.

Senate aides said Boehner was kept apprised of the talks and was fully expected to support the Senate agreement.

But the House speaker declared on NBC’s “Meet the Press” Sunday that neither he nor rank-and-file House Republicans would accept it, raising the possibility that what had seemed a done deal on Saturday is about to unravel.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who handled the Senate Democrats’ political strategy during the payroll tax debate, said Sunday that the decision of whether middle-class taxes go up rests entirely with the House GOP.

"There are only two choices for the House Republicans at this point: pass this bipartisan compromise or else they alone will be responsible for letting taxes rise on the middle class,” Schumer said in a statement.

Schumer said Boehner would be breaking his word to Senate leaders if he did not schedule a vote on the Senate compromise. He said Boehner empowered McConnell to negotiate for him.

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"Last week, Speaker Boehner sat in a meeting with Leader Reid and Leader McConnell and he gave Leader McConnell his proxy to negotiate a bipartisan compromise,” Schumer said. “He made public comments promising to live by whatever agreement the Senate reached. He said, 'If the Senate acts, I’m committed to bringing the House back — we can do it within 24 hours — to deal with whatever the Senate does.'

"The Senate came to a deal, and now Speaker Boehner must keep his word,” Schumer added.

Michael Steel, a spokesman for Boehner, disputed Schumer's characterization of the meeting. 

"That is not true," he said in response to Schumer's claim that McConnell was acting as Boehner's proxy.

A House GOP source told The Hill that Boehner had spoken approvingly of the Senate legislation during a Saturday conference call with members of the House GOP conference.

A Boehner aide said Sunday that the Speaker only lauded inclusion of a provision forcing the administration to speed up consideration of the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline. The aide said Boehner did not commend the Senate deal as a whole.

—Russell Berman contributed to this report.