Payroll tax vote divides GOP

Payroll tax vote divides GOP

The vote to extend the payroll tax holiday on Friday will highlight a stark contrast between Republicans leaders in the House and Senate.

While House GOP leaders are reluctantly backing the agreement, most Senate Republicans are expected to vote against it. This will be the first time that Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerNancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker GOP senator says he 'regularly' considers leaving Republican Party MORE (R-Ohio) and his lieutenants will be voting differently than their Senate counterparts on a high-profile issue in the 112th Congress.

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Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellKey GOP senators appear cool to Kavanaugh accuser's demand Trump hints at new executive action on immigration, wants filibuster-proof Senate majority The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by United Against Nuclear Iran — The Hill interviews President Trump MORE (R-Ky.) has declined to take a public position on the measure, which would add about $100 billion to the deficit. But some of his colleagues expect him to vote no once it has safely passed the lower chamber.

“We want it to pass, but we don’t want to vote for it,” said a Republican senator who requested anonymity.

A spokesman for McConnell warned against letting other lawmakers characterize his boss’s position and noted the bill had only been finalized late Thursday afternoon. McConnell’s leadership deputies, including Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.), oppose the legislation.

One GOP source said Senate Republican leaders are worried that a storm of criticism from the upper chamber could undercut BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerNancy Pelosi: Will she remain the ‘Face of the Franchise’? Jordan hits campaign trail amid bid for Speaker GOP senator says he 'regularly' considers leaving Republican Party MORE’s effort to pass the bill. 


Most Democrats have embraced the payroll deal, though Republican votes will be needed for it to clear both chambers on Friday.

A senior Democratic aide said as many as five Senate Democrats might vote against moving to a final vote on the package, which means at least 12 Republicans would have to back it to muster the 60 votes needed.

One Republican senator said he doubted the measure would get more than a dozen GOP votes in the upper chamber.

Sens. Ben CardinBenjamin (Ben) Louis CardinOvernight Health Care: Senators target surprise medical bills | Group looks to allow Medicaid funds for substance abuse programs | FDA launches anti-vaping campaign for teens Bipartisan group wants to lift Medicaid restriction on substance abuse treatment More Dems come out in public opposition to Kavanaugh MORE (D-Md.), Barbara MikulskiBarbara Ann MikulskiDems ponder gender politics of 2020 nominee Robert Mueller's forgotten surveillance crime spree Clinton: White House slow-walking Russia sanctions MORE (D-Md.), Joe ManchinJoseph (Joe) ManchinThe Memo: Tide turns on Kavanaugh McCaskill to oppose Kavanaugh nomination The Memo: Kavanaugh firestorm consumes political world MORE (D-W.Va.), Mark WarnerMark Robert WarnerRussia docs order sets Trump on collision with intel community Hillicon Valley: North Korean IT firm hit with sanctions | Zuckerberg says Facebook better prepared for midterms | Big win for privacy advocates in Europe | Bezos launches B fund to help children, homeless Bipartisan trio asks US intelligence to investigate ‘deepfakes’ MORE (D-Va.) and Tom HarkinThomas (Tom) Richard HarkinOn Nicaragua, the silence of the left is deafening Dem Senator open to bid from the left in 2020 Senate GOP rejects Trump’s call to go big on gun legislation MORE (D-Iowa) have signaled opposition. It’s unclear whether they would all vote to support a filibuster or merely against final passage.

“The vote’s going to have more suspense than people might think,” said a Democratic aide.

The House is expected to vote at around 1 p.m. Friday, and senators hope to approve it by late afternoon. But lawmakers have had little time to review it, and the schedule could slip. If Senate conservatives object to waiving the rules, the process could drag out over Presidents Day weekend.

The legislation would extend the 4.2 percent payroll tax rate through the end of the year, reform and extend the federal unemployment benefits program and preserve Medicare payments to doctors at current levels.

After working hand in glove throughout much of 2011, tension has emerged between Boehner and McConnell over the last couple of months as the payroll holiday battle intensified. Yet the leaders are in very different political positions as Boehner drives the agenda in the GOP-led House while McConnell is the opposition leader in the Senate.

McConnell is in a tough position. Republican senators acknowledge that President Obama won the public-relations war when the payroll tax holiday nearly lapsed at the end of last year, and they want to avoid a similar political drubbing this spring.

Still, many Republicans think the temporary tax holiday will have a negligible effect on economic growth. They are also concerned that voting for a bill that adds to the deficit will open them to charges of hypocrisy from Tea Party activists.

Senate GOP leaders gave their rank-and-file colleagues a briefing on the package Thursday afternoon but did not urge members to vote yes or no, letting them follow their consciences, according to lawmakers who attended.

GOP Senate leadership aides did circulate a memo highlighting concessions their side won in the final agreement, including cuts to Obama’s healthcare reform law to pay for the freeze in scheduled cuts to doctors’ payments. The preventive healthcare fund set up by the law would be reduced by $5 billion over 10 years.

Two Senate Republican conferees, Sens. Kyl and John BarrassoJohn Anthony BarrassoTrump privately calls Mattis ‘Moderate Dog’: report Push to change wildlife act sparks lobbying blitz House and Senate negotiators reach agreement on water infrastructure bill MORE (Wyo.), told reporters they were shunted aside from the talks led by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max BaucusMax Sieben BaucusOvernight Defense: McCain honored in Capitol ceremony | Mattis extends border deployment | Trump to embark on four-country trip after midterms Congress gives McCain the highest honor Judge boots Green Party from Montana ballot in boost to Tester MORE (D-Mont.) and House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.).
Boehner dismissed the Senate GOP complaints during a press conference Thursday.

“I think you need to talk to the conferees, but everything that I’ve seen, they’ve been as involved in the process as anybody else,” he said.
Senate Democratic leaders on Thursday publicly pressed McConnell to let his members vote for the deal, even if he opposes it.

“This deal will not pass unless Leader McConnell gives it his blessing. Even if he won’t vote for it himself, he needs to allow enough of his members to support it so it can pass,” said Sen. Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump, GOP regain edge in Kavanaugh battle READ: President Trump’s exclusive interview with Hill.TV The Hill's 12:30 Report — Trump slams Sessions in exclusive Hill.TV interview | Kavanaugh accuser wants FBI investigation MORE (N.Y.), the third-ranking Senate Democratic leader.

Schumer, who lambasted House Republicans throughout 2011, actually praised them on Thursday.

“It’s usually Speaker Boehner who gets dragged along by the Tea Party,” he added. “But this time, it looks like it may be the Senate Republican leadership.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidKavanaugh furor intensifies as calls for new testimony grow Dems can’t ‘Bork’ Kavanaugh, and have only themselves to blame Dem senator: Confidential documents would 'strongly bolster' argument against Kavanaugh's nomination MORE (D-Nev.) said, “Just last week, my counterpart Sen. McConnell said, and I quote, ‘Let’s allow the conferees to finish their work. There is no reason we shouldn’t be able to get this done.’ ”

McConnell said Republicans strongly supported extending the payroll tax holiday for the rest of the year. But he also stated clearly that the fiscal stimulus should not add to the deficit.

“At what point do we anticipate getting serious here about doing something about deficit and debt? We think we ought to pay for it,” McConnell told reporters last week. “Regardless of whether these kinds of things have been paid for or not paid for in the past, we are where we are. We're running another trillion-dollar deficit for the fourth year in a row.”

Despite their leaders’ guidance not to criticize the payroll tax holiday, some Senate conservatives could not hold back.

“If it’s not paid for, I’m not going to vote for it. Period,” said Sen. Tom CoburnThomas (Tom) Allen CoburnJohn McCain was a taxpayer hero The White House can — and should — bypass Congress to kill Obama-era spending Trump cannot be 'King of Debt' when it comes to government MORE (R-Okla.).

He added that it was “absolutely immoral” for Congress to “charge it to our children.”

Sen. Orrin HatchOrrin Grant HatchGrand Staircase-Escalante: A conservation triumph is headed for future as playground for industry McConnell tamps down any talk of Kavanaugh withdrawal GOP offers to ban cameras from testimony of Kavanaugh accuser MORE (Utah), the senior Republican on the Finance Committee, said he was not sure how he would vote but expressed some misgivings about the agreement.

“Personally, I’ve always had trouble with it, because it’s robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Hatch said of the plan to use general treasury funds to pay for the 10-month reduction in payroll taxes.

Hatch said he voted in December for a two-month extension of the payroll tax holiday for only one reason: That short-term package included language expediting the approval process for the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.

Bernie Becker and Russell Berman contributed to this report.