Cantor: GOP wants year-long payroll extension, won’t settle for two months

House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said Monday that House Republicans would be hard-pressed to vote for another 60-day extension of the payroll tax cut.

The Virginia Republican told reporters on Monday that it would be “inexcusable” if a conference of lawmakers fails to agree to a year-long extension of the tax cut, which was extended by two months at the end of last year.

Lawmakers face a Feb. 29 deadline to reach a deal. The package also includes an extension of federal unemployment benefits and language to prevent a cut to Medicare payments for doctors.

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“This should be easy, this should be easy to tell people who have a job that their taxes are not going to go up,” Cantor said. “I’m hopeful that the stories and reports that I read, that Harry Reid is thinking we just got to go another 60 days instead of a year is not true.”

Reid (D-Nev.), the Senate majority leader, indicated Friday that Senate Democrats were coming up with a “back-up plan” should conferees fail to reach consensus on a year-long extension.

Reid accused congressional Republicans of slowing the negotiations by trying to tack unrelated issues on to the measure.

"I have great confidence in our conferees, but I'm not going to stand by when the GOP slows the process," he said.

The main stumbling block to an agreement is how to pay for the cost of the measure.

At the end of December, House Republicans took a political hit when they objected to a deal between Democrats and Senate Republicans that extended the measure for two months. House Republicans eventually agreed to the deal.

On Monday, Cantor said his conference was the victim of poor messaging in December, He also insisted House Republicans would not be to blame if there is a problem in extending the tax cut.

“The Republican conference in the House was never for allowing payroll taxes to go up on working people. And somehow that message didn’t seem to go and flow through, in terms of the message coming out of Washington,” Cantor said. “Why would we want to stand in the way of anything that would allow that to happen?”

He said it would be best to extend the tax cut for a year, and not for two months, since it would provide certainty.

The 20-member conference committee has met several times since the start of January, but remains far apart.

Cantor, however, said the two parties should be able to agree on measures to pay for the tax cut by considering options that have been on the table in previous deficit-reduction talks.

He said there was some “relatively low-hanging fruit” left from talks involving the White House and the deficit supercommittee.