Reid wants passage of payroll tax package before recess


Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is insisting he will not permit any “rushing for the exits” by lawmakers wanting to adjourn this week for the year until Congress passes a bill to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment assistance.

To exert more pressure on Republicans, the Senate’s top Democrat may also be tying the fate of a separate, massive $900 billion-plus spending plan to finance government operations in 2012 to successful passage of the extender bill. That, even though House Republicans say they already have secured “a handshake deal” with congressional Democrats on the spending measure.

Democratic sources on Tuesday stopped short of saying that Reid — in conjunction with President Obama — is insisting he will not permit a final vote on the spending package containing nine annual spending bills that were due on Oct. 1 until the payroll tax and unemployment insurance are extended. Both are set to expire at the end of the year.

But it is evident the Senate’s top Democrat is privately rattling that sabre.

And in what may underscore Reid’s determination to get the payroll tax measure passed, perhaps at the expense of stalling final action on the spending measure, a senior Senate Democratic aide would not rule out a need for another stopgap “continuing resolution” later this week to keep money flowing to agencies that are covered under the nine tardy spending bills.

The current CR expires on Friday, and without passage of the spending bill, or another temporary funding measure, a government shutdown could ensue.

“Democrats will not leave town until we guarantee that middle-class families do not get with a thousand-dollar tax hike on January 1,” the senior Senate Democratic aide reasserted on Tuesday, emphasizing Reid has been saying that all along. “We hope Republicans will work with us to prevent this middle-class tax hike, instead of rushing for the exits.”

But as for the spending bill, the aide said that despite the House GOP claim of a deal, “there are still major outstanding issues that need to be resolved. Republicans are trying to force through extreme policy riders on women’s health, the environment and other issues to appease the tea party.”

A House Republican aide insisted that a “handshake deal” had been struck with Senate Democratic appropriators on Monday, and reiterated on Tuesday morning that Senate Appropriations Chairman Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, “told us he is on board for moving forward on our bill.”

What appears likely is that a near-deal has been reached by House and Senate appropriators on the spending bill — legislative aides say the measure is written and already is more than 3,500 pages long.

The package, however, may now not move forward immediately because it has been subsumed by even bigger payroll tax package politics.

The Republican-controlled House is poised to vote Tuesday on a GOP version of a bill to extend the payroll-tax holiday for one year, modify, extend, and reform federal unemployment insurance, and prevent a scheduled reduction in Medicare pay to doctors.

But Democrats who control the Senate would revamp the measure, including many of the Republicans’ spending offsets.

They instead back a version that would incorporate Obama’s plan to pay for the cost of extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment with a surtax on annual income over $1 million. Democrats also oppose a number of items they are calling “poison pills” in the GOP plan, such as its fast-tracking approval of the controversial Keystone pipeline.

The worry for Democrats is that once both chambers pass the must-pass spending measure, House Republicans will leave Washington for the year leaving Senate Democrats — essentially — with a take-it-or-leave-it choice on passing the GOP payroll tax extender package.

House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, told reporters on Monday that all of the funding proposals in the GOP package have been discussed before. “Ninety percent of the offsets are offsets that have come from the administration,” Boehner said. “I don’t see any real objections to the pay-fors that are in our bill.”