Dems vow not to cave on payroll tax, upping pressure on Boehner

Democrats say there is no chance of them caving in to House Republicans over the payroll tax holiday, which puts House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) in a tough spot.
 
President Obama and Democratic leaders disappointed liberals on the last two major showdowns, when they agreed to extend the Bush tax rates a year ago and accepted significant spending cuts to raise the debt limit.
 

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This time Senate Democrats are standing firm and have a blunt message for Boehner: “Take it or leave it.” They feel confident that if payroll taxes increase, unemployment benefits expire and doctors see their Medicare payments get cut, the backlash will hit House Republicans, not them.
 
“Democrats cave? How could you suggest that?” Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.), an outspoken liberal independent, said with a heavy dose of irony when asked last week whether he feared Democratic leaders would give too much in the payroll tax negotiations.
 
But Democratic leadership aides say it’s not going to happen and pointed to tough talk Monday from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
 
Reid said he would not talk to Boehner on a yearlong extension of the payroll tax holiday, unemployment benefits and the doctors’ fix unless House Republicans passed a stopgap measure to ensure those provisions won’t expire at the end of next week.


“Senator [Mitch] McConnell and I negotiated a compromise at Speaker Boehner’s request. I will not re-open negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders, and supported by 90 percent of the Senate,” Reid said in a statement Monday.

Reid said the blame would lie with House Republicans and no one else if the lower chamber defeated a two-month extension of the expiring provisions that passed the Senate with broad bipartisan support Saturday.

“Democratic and Republican leaders negotiated a compromise and Speaker Boehner should not walk away from it, putting middle-class families at risk of a thousand-dollar tax hike just because a few angry Tea Partiers raised their voices to the Speaker,” Reid said.

A senior Democratic aide said Reid’s statement meant that he would not appoint conferees to merge the Senate compromise and a yearlong payroll tax extension the House passed last week.

Boehner said earlier Monday he expected the House to reject the Senate legislation and launch a conference committee instead.

Democratic strategists say Republicans will be in a weak position if they reject the bipartisan stopgap measure and the only alternative they have to offer is a proposal to create a bicameral negotiating conference.

They say the pressure will grow intense on House Republicans as the calendar marches toward New Year’s Day and people facing higher taxes, the unemployed and doctors become increasingly upset.

“You’re going to see unemployed Americans with risk of benefits getting cut off and doctors facing a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments banging down the doors of Republicans,” said a senior Democratic aide.
 
Democrats predict these angry petitioners will press for the passage of the Senate stopgap compromise as the most viable solution to averting tax hikes and lost benefits.
 
“When something gets 89 votes in the Senate, there’s no way that House Republicans can convince people that’s not their best chance to prevent a lapse on Jan. 1,” said a senior Democratic aide.
 
Republicans argue that a short-term extension of the payroll tax holiday is bad policy because it creates uncertainty in the economy. They say private sector doubts about government policy has dragged down job creation.

“Democrats and Republicans agree that the payroll tax cut needs to be extended for a full year to provide the kind of relief that Americans need in this struggling economy. The House last week passed a bill to do just that,” Boehner told reporters Monday morning.

“But instead of passing the House bill or another bill which extended the payroll tax credit for a year, the Senate Democrat leaders passed a two-month extension, punting the problem into next year,” he added. “We oppose the Senate bill because doing a two-month extension instead of a full-year extension causes uncertainty for job creators.”

A senior Republican aide say Boehner and Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) merely want Congress to follow its own rules: pass legislation in both chambers and work out the differences in a conference committee.
 
One senior Democratic aide predicted Republicans would back down this week. Either the House will change trajectory and pass the Senate bill Monday night, postpone a vote until later in the week or defeat the Senate bill only to approve it later in the week as public pressure intensifies, the aide said.
 
Democrats received a boost from an unexpected corner Monday when three Republican senators urged House Republicans to pass the Senate compromise.
 
“The House Republicans’ plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong,” said Sen. Scott Brown (R-Mass.) in a statement Monday. 
 
“The refusal to compromise now threatens to increase taxes on hard-working Americans and stop unemployment benefits for those out of work,” he added.
 
Sens. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) and Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) also called on House Republicans to pass the Senate stopgap.
 
Senate Democrats see only one potential pitfall: the White House. They say the only way Republicans could reverse the political dynamic is if Obama undercut congressional Democrats by urging them to work out the differences between the Senate and House legislation.
 
Obama tried to play the adult in the room earlier this year by criticizing Congress for not making progress on his jobs agenda, without drawing distinction between Democrats and Republicans.
 
But congressional Democrats believe Obama is solidly behind them.
 
On Monday, after Boehner said he wouldn’t support the extension legislation, White House officials updated their now famous “countdown clocks” behind spokesman Jay Carney’s lectern to state: “If the House doesn’t act, middle class taxes increase in (insert time here).”
 
— Amie Parnes contributed to this report.