House GOP payroll tax cut negotiator floats three-month extension

One House Republican appointed to the conference committee GOP leaders hope to convene to negotiate an extension to the payroll tax cut said Thursday that Republicans might be willing to vote for a three-month — rather than two-month or yearlong — extension of the cut, although a spokesman for the congressman quickly walked the proposal back later in the morning.

Rep. Dave Camp (R-Mich.), chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, suggested a three-month extension would be easier for employers to implement in software set up to report taxes by financial quarters.

“If we can’t do a year, at least do a quarter, something that matches up with what employers have to report,” Camp said on CNBC. “We’re hearing from employers that not matching up with the quarterly reporting that they’re required to do with the government is going to cause them a tremendous burden and difficulty — that it makes it harder to meet payroll.”

A few hours after Camp’s appearance, a spokeswoman for the Ways and Means chairman stressed that the Michigan Republican was not actually proposing a three-month extension.

“The chairman was offering an example of why the Senate bill does not work, which is what we are hearing from employers all across the country,” said Michelle Dimarob.

Camp’s comments also came just hours before Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), who had helped broker the compromise in his chamber, urged House Republicans to pass that measure if Senate Democrats appointed conferees.

At a Thursday news conference, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other Republican lawmakers did not close the door on a three-month extension, either.

“We need people to sit down and work with. We’re not going to sit here and negotiate with ourselves,” Boehner said, after being directly asked about a three-month deal. “That’s why Senator [Harry] Reid ought to appoint conferees from the Senate side so that we can sit down and resolve our differences and do so quickly.”

House Republicans have insisted that the Senate return to negotiate a full-year extension of the tax cut because the two-month temporary measure approved by the upper chamber would be too difficult for employers to implement. 

The National Payroll Reporting Consortium lobbied Congress last week, arguing that the Senate bill provided "insufficient lead time" to be implemented in the new year.

"In our opinion enactment of HR 3630 as written could create substantial problems, confusion and costs affecting a significant percentage of U.S. employers and employees,” reads a letter from the group to the Ways and Means committees of both chambers.

After the briefing, Rep. Tom Reed (R-N.Y.), one of the GOP negotiators, said he was on the same page with the Speaker.

“The bottom line is, we’re open to all proposals. And we’re willing to work out those differences,” Reed said.

But House Democrats appeared skeptical of a three-month extension in a news conference of their own, with Rep. Xavier Becerra (D-Calif.) saying "everyone should know how to walk and chew gum, including those who have to process these payroll tax cut claims."

GOP leadership was also responding to concerns from rank-and-file members who wanted to put another fight over the payroll tax break off until after the 2012 elections. Camp's proposal would not avoid another round of negotiations before the next election.

It is unclear whether the Senate would be willing to consider hybrid legislation, which would require the chamber to reconvene before the new year. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has maintained that he will not call the Senate back unless the House passes the Senate bill.