Conference committee on some of the same pages on payroll-tax cut

Still, tough discussions over offsetting the cost of the payroll-tax cut loom in the coming days, with the two-month extension of the cut enacted late last year expiring at the end of the month.

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Democrats and Republicans have already had disagreements over how to pay for extending the cut.

House Republicans, who passed their own year-long extension of the tax break last year, are expected to vote Wednesday on two of their preferred pay-fors — an extension of a pay freeze for federal workers and a measure to bar those on welfare from accessing their benefits at liquor stores, strip clubs and casinos.

Democrats, meanwhile, are calling for a surtax on millionaires to help pay for the payroll-tax relief, which currently helps 160 million people.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), a member of the bipartisan Gang of Six that sought a broad deficit-reduction deal last summer, said he wants to find responsible offsets for the payroll-tax relief.

But Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), whose district includes many federal workers, noted that the Bush-era tax cuts, which Republicans don’t want to see expire for anyone, were not offset.

“Separating policy from pay-fors is somewhat problematical. Because the pay-fors involve policy,” said Rep. Sandy Levin (Mich.), the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Committee.

With all that in mind, both Camp and Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.), vice chairman of the conference committee, suggested that lawmakers might not be able to reach a year-long agreement if they can’t find consensus on offsets.

“We may not be able to do all that we want to do if we cannot find agreement on how to pay for it,” Camp told reporters after the meeting.