POLITICS

Payroll tax cut bill faces major hangup in House of Representatives

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Just a couple of weeks after many Republicans made it plain they thought that the payroll tax cut — the centerpiece of Obama's autumn jobs agenda — hadn't worked and that renewing it was a waste of money, Republicans emerged from a closed-door meeting touting their support for the president.

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

"Do you want to do something for 60 days that kicks the can down the road?" said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. "Or do you want to do what the president asked us to do? And we're people who don't agree with the president all that often."

"I've never seen us so unified," Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said as he left a two-hour, closed-door meeting Monday night where Republicans firmed up their plans. He said the payroll tax cut that has been in effect this year failed to create any jobs, but he favored extending it for another 12 months because "it's tough to raise taxes when you're in a down economy."

Congress' approval ratings are in the cellar, in part because of repeated partisan confrontations that brought the Treasury to the brink of a first-ever default last summer, and more than once pushed the vast federal establishment to the edge of a partial shutdown.

This time, unlike the others, Republican divisions were prominently on display.

The two-month measure that cleared the Senate, 89-10, on Saturday had the full support of McConnell, the Republican leader, who also told reporters he was optimistic the House would sign on. Senate negotiators had tried to agree on a compromise to cover a full year, but were unable to come up with enough savings to offset the cost and prevent deficits from rising.

The two-month extension was a fallback, and officials say that when McConnell personally informed Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor of the deal at a private meeting, they said they would check with their rank and file.

But on Saturday, restive House conservatives made clear during a telephone conference call that they were unhappy with the measure.

Ironically, until the House rank and file revolted, it appeared that Republicans had outmaneuvered Democrats and Obama on one point.

The two-month measure that cleared the Senate required the president to decide within 60 days to allow construction on a proposed oil pipeline that promises thousands of construction jobs. Obama had threatened to veto legislation that included the requirement, then did an about-face.

The president recently announced he was delaying a decision on the pipeline until after the 2012 elections, meaning that while seeking a new term, he would not have to choose between disappointing environmentalists who oppose the project and blue-collar unions that support it.

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