Temper Tantrum on Capitol Hill
WASHINGTON (AP) — Congress lurched toward Grinch-like gridlock on Tuesday as the Republican-controlled House rejected a two-month extension of Social Security tax cuts that President Barack Obama said was “the only viable way” to prevent a drop in take-home pay for 160 million workers on Jan. 1.
“The clock is ticking, time is running out,” Obama said shortly after House voted 229-193 to request negotiations with the Senate on renewing the payroll tax cuts for a year.
House Speaker John Boehner, told that Obama had sought his help, replied, “I need the president to help out.” His voice rose as he said it, and his words were cheered by dozens of Republicans lawmakers who have pushed him and the rest of the leadership to pursue a more confrontational strategy with Democrats and the White House in an already contentious year of divided government.
This time, it wasn’t a partial government shutdown or even an unprecedented Treasury default that was at stake, but the prospect that payroll taxes would rise and long-term unemployment benefits end for millions of jobless victims of the worst recession since the 1930s.
Yet another deadline has been entangled in the dispute, this one affecting seniors, but the administration announced it had finessed a way around it. Officials said paperwork for doctors who treat Medicare patients in the early days of the new year will not be processed until Jan. 18, giving lawmakers more time to avert a 27 percent cut in fees threatened for Jan. 1.
Whatever the stakes, there was little indication that Republicans would get their wish for negotiations with the Senate any time soon. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a statement saying he would be happy to resume talks on a yearlong measure — “but not before” the House ratifies the two-month bill and sends it to Obama for his signature.
Given Obama’s remarks and Reid’s refusal to negotiate, it was unclear what leverage Republicans had in the year-end standoff. It appeared likely the partisan disagreement could easily persist past Christmas and into the last week of the year.
The standoff was sowing confusion in business, running out of days to adapt to any new payroll tax regimen. Even the Senate’s proposed two-month extension was creating headaches because it contained a two-tiered system geared to ensuring that higher-income earners paid a higher rate on some of their wages, according to a trade group.
“There’s not time enough to do that in an orderly fashion,” said Pete A. Isberg, president of the National Payroll Reporting Consortium trade group. “We’re two weeks away from 2012.” He wrote a letter to congressional leaders this week warning that the Senate bill “could create substantial problems, confusion and costs.”
Democrats pounced on Republicans for rejecting the Senate bill, emboldened by polls finding Obama’s approval rising and that of the congressional Republicans fading. They noted that several lawmakers whom Boehner appointed to negotiate a compromise had recently criticized an extension of payroll tax cuts.
Democrats also introduced legislation in the House to ratify the two-month bill that passed the Senate.
AFL-CIO sent out this message yesterday:
I just got a message from our Government Affairs director, Bill Samuel, telling me about a temper tantrum on Capitol Hill.
It’s flat-out heartless for lawmakers to go home and enjoy the holidays, while their political posturing causes millions of families across America to suffer anxiety and heartbreak. But House Speaker John Boehner is threatening to do just that.
He says he’ll block unemployment aid and raise taxes on working families—even though 89 senators from both sides of the aisle already voted to extend the aid and keep the tax cut in place.
Failing to extend emergency unemployment aid and middle-class tax cuts is cruel and wrong. Cruel because it takes away a lifeline for families that need it. Wrong because it delivers two massive blows to our fragile economy.
I need you to stop what you’re doing, pick up the phone and dial 1-888-245-3381. Tell the person who answers the phone: “Please pass the Senate’s bill to extend unemployment aid and middle-class tax cuts immediately.”
You can also call House Speaker John Boehner at 202-225-0600. Tell him, “ You and your Tea Party supporters can’t keep hurting the American people just so you can get what you want. Stop this temper tantrum and pass the Senate’s bipartisan bill to extend unemployment aid and middle-class tax cuts now.”
If you want to learn more about the deal, keep reading. I’m forwarding a message from Bill. But the most important thing is for you to pick up the phone, right now.
From: Bill Samuel
Sent: Monday, December 19, 2011 10:40 AM
To: Richard L. Trumka
Subject: Temper Tantrum on Capitol Hill
As I mentioned this weekend, the Senate passed a bipartisan deal with 89 votes to keep emergency unemployment benefits going for two months and extend middle-class tax cuts.
This was not just a bipartisan deal–it passed with an overwhelming super-majority.
This two-month extension seemed like a done deal. But this morning, we got word that John Boehner and his Tea Party friends are threatening to blow up the whole thing. The Senate has already left town. This is really bad.
The only thing that might be able to save emergency unemployment and middle-class tax cuts is a flood of phone calls from outraged constituents. Can you ask our activists to make emergency phone calls today?
The toll-free number we need people to call today is 1-888-245-3381. People should demand their representative pass the Senate’s bipartisan bill to extend unemployment aid and tax cuts for working families.
They can also call House Speaker John Boehner and tell him the same thing. His number is 202-225-0600.
A House vote is expected as early as 6:30 p.m. eastern time tonight, but people should keep calling in and spreading the word to friends and family in case the vote gets delayed.
I wish I had better news–but with activists’ help we might be able to make this come out OK.