White House quiets talk of using omnibus bill as tool in payroll tax fight

The White House said on Tuesday that President Obama will sign the omnibus bill, quieting speculation from some House Democrats that it could be used as leverage in the payroll tax fight.

“The president is focused on getting the business of the American people done, and once we receive the omnibus funding bill, he will sign it,” said Kenneth Baer, communications director at the Office of Management and Budget.

The omnibus was approved by Congress at the end of last week but has yet to make it to the White House. It can take time for a bill the size of the omnibus to be enrolled, which includes proofreading the House and Senate versions of the massive measure to ensure there are no inconsistencies.

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Still, the gap — and the tensions surrounding a separate fight over extending the payroll tax cut — have fed speculation that the presidential pen on the omnibus could become leverage for the president. The House is not expected to approve the Senate’s two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, which expires at the end of the year.

Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.), during Monday night’s House Rules Committee meeting on the House tax bill, noted that Obama hadn’t signed the spending measure and implied that the president could use the bill as leverage for the payroll tax bill.

Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) went further Tuesday.

“In addition, the president has not signed the omnibus bill,” she said in comments on the House floor. “I think he was going to wait for this one, which means that come Friday, the government could shut down. Once again, this brinksmanship of hanging by our thumbs.”

Asked on Monday if he had any concern that Obama would hold off on signing the spending bill until the payroll tax issue was resolved, Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) replied: “I hope not.

“Shutting down government is not an option,” he said. “And I would hope that — and I don't think he will do that.”

Baer’s statement would appear to put such concerns to rest.

“We came to an agreement in August to cut discretionary spending by $1 trillion over the next decade. Through a bipartisan effort, Congress crafted this omnibus bill to implement the first year of these cuts,” Baer said.

He called the omnibus “a balanced, bipartisan bill that meets the tests we set out at the beginning of this negotiating process.”

He said Obama “will sign this bill, and Congress should not reopen discretionary spending levels."

“They're the one thing we've been able to agree to,” he said. “Instead, House Republicans should focus on the urgent task in front of them, put aside whatever political concerns they have, and pass the compromise payroll/UI bill that passed the Senate by overwhelming, bipartisan margins.”

A House aide expected enrollment to be concluded in time for Obama to sign the bill on Wednesday.

Russell Berman, Alexander Bolton, Erik Wasson and Pete Kasperowicz contributed to this story.