McConnell aide: Dems should be open to altering payroll tax deal

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) on Sunday backed up the House GOP’s demand that the Senate renegotiate a deal to extend the payroll tax holiday.

Don Stewart, a spokesman for McConnell, endorsed House Speaker John Boehner’s (R-Ohio) demand that the Senate negotiate a new compromise to extend the payroll tax cut.

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“The House and the President both want a full-year extension. The best way to resolve the difference between the two-month extension and the full-year bill, and provide certainty for job creators, employees and the long-term unemployed, is through regular order, as the Speaker suggested,” said Stewart.

A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said earlier in the day that the Senate would not return to Washington next week if the House kills the Senate-passed payroll tax deal.

Spokesman Adam Jentleson later said Reid wants to negotiate a year-long extension of the payroll tax cut but urged House Republicans to pass the stopgap measure to protect people from seeing their taxes rise in January.


"Senator Reid has been trying to negotiate a yearlong extension of the payroll tax credit with Republicans for weeks. He is happy to continue negotiating a yearlong extension as soon as the House passes the Senate's short-term, bipartisan compromise to make sure middle class families will not be hit by a thousand-dollar tax hike on January 1," he said in a Sunday afternoon statement.

A senior Democratic aide expressed disbelief that McConnell was calling on Democrats to accept changes to a deal he had negotiated less than 48 hours earlier.

The legislation would extend the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and a freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors’ Medicare payments for two months. The Senate approved it Saturday by a vote of 89-10.

McConnell and members of his leadership team voted for the agreement. Only seven Senate Republicans voted no.

Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director, said House Republicans would be responsible for increasing taxes on 160 million people if they blocked the Senate legislation.

"As the president said yesterday, it is inexcusable to do anything less than extend this tax cut for the entire year, and Congress must work on a one year deal.  But they should pass the two month extension now to avoid a devastating tax hike from hitting the middle class in just 13 days. It’s time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people," Pfeiffer said in a statement.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who worked closely with Reid during the payroll tax debate, said Boehner would break his word to Senate leaders if he rejected the legislation.

Schumer said Sunday that Boehner had empowered McConnell to negotiate on his behalf and was now rejecting the bipartisan deal after he led Senate Democrats to believe he would accept it.

"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. 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,'” Schumer said in a statement Sunday.

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

Boehner’s spokesman, Michael Steel, disputed Schumer’s claim that McConnell had acted as a proxy for Boehner.

“That is not true,” he said.

GOP aides note that Schumer did not attend a Wednesday evening meeting with Reid, Boehner and McConnell.

—This story was first posted at 2:13 p.m. and has been updated.