POLITICS

Payroll tax cut bill faces major hangup in House of Representatives

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WASHINGTON (AP) — With the Senate adjourned for the holidays, House Republicans are moving to shelve a bipartisan two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut that cleared the Senate over the weekend and are demanding instead that their fellow lawmakers return to the Capitol for negotiations.

House GOP members say they'll vote down any short-term measure, opting instead for a longer solution. (Photo: Flickr/cometstarmoon)

After a spate of bipartisanship last week, the combatants are back in full-throated warfare over President Barack Obama's payroll tax initiative and other expiring measures, including jobless benefits for almost 1.8 million people who will lose them next month if Congress doesn't act.

Instead of accepting a two-month stopgap Senate measure that would ensure fighting continues into February, Republicans said they would move Tuesday to set up an official House-Senate negotiating panel known as a conference committee. The Senate's top Democrat said he would refuse to negotiate until the House passes the short-term version.

Both sides insist they want to extend the provisions before a Dec. 31 deadline, but that will prove difficult. After overwhelmingly passing a two-month extension Saturday, senators raced for the exits in the belief that the House would see no alternative but to go along. The Senate isn't scheduled to resume legislative work until Jan. 23.

The Senate's short-term, lowest-common-denominator approach would renew a 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security payroll tax, plus jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed, and would prevent a huge cut in Medicare payments to doctors.

But House Republicans quickly erupted in frustration at the Senate measure, which drops changes to the unemployment insurance system pressed by conservatives, along with cuts to Obama's health care law. Also driving their frustration was that the Senate, as it so often does, appeared intent on leaving the House holding the bag — leaving it no choice but to go along.

"With millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet, it would be unconscionable for Speaker (John) Boehner to block a bipartisan agreement that would protect middle-class families from the thousand-dollar tax increase looming on January 1st," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who negotiated the two-month extension with Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. The 2 percentage point tax cut provides about a $1,000 annual tax cut for a typical earner making about $50,000 a year.

Both sides were eager to position themselves as the strongest advocates of the payroll tax cut, with House Republicans accusing the Senate of lollygagging on vacation and Senate Democrats countering that the House was seeking a partisan battle rather than taking the obvious route of approving the stopgap bill to buy more time for negotiations.

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