House Speaker Forsees Extension of Payroll Tax Cuts
By Susan Davis
December 19, 2011
House Speaker John Boehner told USA TODAY on Monday that he was optimistic that payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits would be extended — despite a congressional stalemate that could result in millions of Americans losing both in the new year.
The Ohio Republican said in a sit-down interview with USA TODAY that the differences between the House and Senate could be resolved before the benefits expire Dec. 31. “The president said we shouldn't be going on vacation until we get our work done. I agree with him,” he said. “We can get this accomplished and we should.”
If Congress fails to act, payroll taxes will go up for 160 million Americans as soon as their first paycheck of 2012 arrives, and about 2.2 million, long-term unemployed Americans will see their jobless benefits end by mid-February. “There's no need for that to happen. None,” Boehner said.
However, the GOP-controlled House was poised to reject today a $33 billion, two-month extension of the benefits that the Democratic-controlled Senate approved by an overwhelming 89-10 margin Saturday.
This is a short-term patch until Congress returns in late January in the effort to secure an extension through the end of next year.
House Republicans oppose the short-term extension as bad policy.
“I think that creates even more uncertainly for job creators, it's just time for Congress to get its job done,” Boehner said.
They instead are advocating for a one-year extension, which the House approved earlier this month. Senate leaders and the White House also support a one-year extension, but approved a short-term fix because time was running out to negotiate a broader deal and how to pay for it before the benefits expire.
The package also includes legislation to delay a scheduled cut in Medicare payments to physicians that has broad support in both parties.
President Obama supports a one-year extension, but he said he would sign into law a short-term fix. The president has delayed his Christmas vacation to Hawaii until the matter is resolved.
The House was expected to vote to move to formal negotiations with the Senate as the next step in trying to resolve differences between the two bills. “We're going to follow regular order. The Senate passed a bill. The House passed a bill … We think that doing this for the full year is important and we hope that the Senate will work with us to resolve our differences,” Boehner said.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., has already adjourned the Senate for the year. Reid called on the House to pass the short-term fix so as not to disrupt Americans who are relying on the benefits at a time of economic unrest.
The impasse comes as Gallup released new polling data on Monday giving Congress a record low approval rating. Only 11% of Americans approve of Congress, the lowest finding since Gallup starting asking the question in 1974.
Boehner told USA TODAY that the low approval is not a surprise, and that Republicans need to do a better job selling themselves to the public.
“If you want the American people to know what it is you're doing, you've got to talk about it a lot. And then when you get sick of talking about it, you've got to talk about it a lot more,” he said.