House Republican leaders press for Senate action, brush off their critics

House Republicans pressed the Senate to take action on a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut on Wednesday, even as they came under more pressure to compromise on a deal.

At a short briefing, GOP leaders called on the Senate and the White House to negotiate with them and suggested that the differences between the two chambers could easily be bridged.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) both reiterated that they believed a deal could be struck quickly.

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“I think it’s important to note that the president, bipartisan leaders in the House, and bipartisan leaders in the Senate have all really asked for the same thing over the course of the last couple of months: Let’s extend the payroll tax credit for a year, ” Boehner said before a meeting between GOP leaders and the eight House Republican conferees.

Cantor added that the House proposal to extend the payroll tax cut for a year — instead of the two-month version agreed to in the Senate — would give businesses and workers more certainty.

“Frankly, that’s the only issue on which we differ with the Senate,” Cantor said.

The meeting came amid increasing concern among Senate Republicans and prominent conservatives that the House GOP was stepping on a political minefield in the payroll tax debate.

The House Republicans convened around the same time that two top House Democrats took to the floor to call on their GOP counterparts to pass the Senate payroll tax measure. 

President Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) pushed back on Boehner on Wednesday, saying the Senate measure is the best way to ensure that workers don’t have to pay more in payroll taxes come January. 

The president phoned the Speaker on Wednesday morning to ask for a House vote on the Senate bill.

“The short-term bipartisan compromise passed by almost the entire Senate is the only option to ensure that middle class families aren't hit with a tax hike in 10 days and gives both sides the time needed to work out a full-year solution,” the president said to Boehner, according to a readout provided by the White House.

According to a Boehner aide, the Speaker asked Obama on the call to push Reid to appoint conferees to negotiate a yearlong extension of the tax cut.

“The Speaker told the president that his conference was elected to change the way Washington does business and that we should not waste the next 10 days simply because it is an inconvenient time of year” the aide said. 

The back and forth comes days after the Senate cleared a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, federal unemployment benefits and Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.

But the House Republican rank and file have rejected that plan, and the chamber passed a measure on Tuesday to set up a conference committee with the Senate.

The conservative editorial board of The Wall Street Journal chided the House GOP for that approach on Wednesday, saying the chamber had given President Obama the upper hand on taxes.

"The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass," the editorial said. 

"Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible."

Several Senate Republicans have also criticized their House colleagues. The most recent was Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who voted against the Senate tax bill but on Wednesday said he agreed with the Journal editorial.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who said Tuesday that the House GOP strategy was harming their party, also tweeted out his agreement with the Journal on Wednesday.

Thirty-nine Senate Republicans voted for the two-month extension.

Boehner brushed off some of that criticism but called on Senate Republicans to join his conference at the negotiating table.

“We are the party of lower taxes for the American people,” Boehner said. “We have fought for lower taxes for the 21 years that I have been in this Congress. We’re going to continue to be the party of lower taxes.”

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who helped hash out the proposed two-month extension, has receded to the background in recent days. Boehner did not deny on Wednesday that it would be useful if Senate Republicans were more publicly supportive of his conference.

“It'd be helpful if members of the Senate of both parties were here to sit down and resolve these differences as quickly as possible,” the Speaker said.

The eight GOP conferees — which include a couple of doctors and a nurse — also got into the act on Wednesday, telling reporters that the two-month Senate plan was measly, reckless and far from sufficient.

“We need the Senate to come back into session, sit down with us — I know it's the holiday — but come back here,” Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) said. “The American people deserve us to be at the table, getting our work done. And that's what we're going to do, and that's why my colleagues are here.”

Democrats attempted to raise pressure on the GOP by bringing the Senate-passed tax bill to the House floor. The effort was quickly blocked by House Republicans.

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Shortly after they were passed over on the floor, Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the ranking member on the Budget Committee, accused Republicans of walking out on the workers who would see their paychecks shrink come January.

“Republicans have taken hostage those 160 million … so that it could be done their way,” Hoyer charged at an impromptu press conference.

The two Democrats also noted that several of the House GOP conferees had been skeptical of extending the payroll tax cut at one time or another this year, while Hoyer left open the possibility of House Democrats trying to match Republican photo-ops in the days to come. 

“This is a device, a gimmick, a political charade, if you will, to pretend support for something that they have historically, over the last year, opposed,” Hoyer said.

Amie Parnes and Molly K. Hooper contributed.

—This story was originally posted at 11:03 a.m. and has been updated.