McConnell names his conferees for talks on payroll-tax cut

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell named a trio of GOP senators to the payroll tax conference committee on Friday, filling the remaining slots on the panel.

McConnell named Sens. Jon Kyl of Arizona, the No. 2 Republican in the chamber; John Barrasso of Wyoming; and Mike Crapo of Idaho to the 20-member committee, which will attempt to hash out a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut and also deal with Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors and federal unemployment benefits.

The House and Senate passed a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut last week, a measure that also requires the White House to make a decision on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline within 60 days.

“As we move into the new year, it’s crucial for everyone to realize that, once this temporary extension is behind us, the larger goal is to move beyond a discussion of temporary assistance, and toward a bipartisan plan to get our economy moving again, reform the tax code, and preserve and protect entitlement programs for future generations,” McConnell said in a Friday statement.

The conference committee comes after lawmakers had a roller coaster of a December dealing with the 2 percentage point payroll tax cut, which was first enacted during last year’s compromise to extend the Bush tax rates and would have expired at year’s end.

Earlier in the month, House Republicans passed a yearlong extension of the payroll tax cut, which also included the Keystone XL provision and a delay of environmental rules.

But the Senate eventually passed a bipartisan two-month extension, once it seemed unlikely that a longer deal could be completed by the end of December.

And while the House at first continued to press for a yearlong agreement to be completed this month, GOP leaders eventually caved amid pressure from Senate Republicans and other conservative leaders.

The conference committee marks just the latest high-profile appointment for Kyl, who is not seeking reelection next year. The Arizona Republican has already served on the deficit-reduction group led by Vice President Biden and on the failed supercommittee.

Crapo is a member of both the tax-writing Finance Committee and the bipartisan “Gang of Six.”

Barrasso, recently chosen to be the No. 4 Senate Republican, is a physician and becomes the latest GOP healthcare professional appointed to a conference committee that will take up the Medicare “doc fix.”

Reps. Tom Price (R-Ga.) and Nan Hayworth (R-N.Y.), also doctors, have been appointed as House conferees, as has Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), a nurse.

McConnell’s picks for conferees come days after other congressional leaders chose their representatives.

House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) has tapped a pair of committee chairman among his conferees: Reps. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee; and Fred Upton (R-Mich), who helms the Energy and Commerce Committee.

Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.) along with Ellmers and Hayworth are the committee's freshmen. Reps. Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Greg Walden (R-Ore.) are also on the panel.

The Democrats on the committee are: Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, the Finance chairman; Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland; Sen. Bob Casey Jr. of Pennsylvania; Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island; Rep. Xavier Becerra of California; Rep. Sandy Levin of Michigan; Rep. Allyson Schwartz of Pennsylvania; Rep. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland; and Rep. Henry Waxman of California.