Monday, Dec. 19, 2011 | 1:04 p.m.
WASHINGTON -- Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada today scolded his fellow Republicans in the House for refusing to support a bipartisan package to extend payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance, saying while he agreed with them in principle, playing politics with such an important issue was unacceptable.
“There is no question we need to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year...However, there is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out,” Heller said in a statement today. “What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people.”
Heller was careful not to directly call out House Speaker John Boehner, Nevada Republican Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei or the Republican Party by name in his statement, but the intent was clear.
Boehner announced over the weekend that House Republicans did not approve of the payroll tax cut package that passed the Senate with a strong bipartisan vote Saturday (89 to 10) because it was only a two-month extension of the programs, not a one-year extension.
Heck, who agrees with Boehner, called the Senate's offer of a two-month bill "utterly ridiculous" on Monday.
"I think the fact that the Senate sent back a two-month policy that is truly unable to be implemented for the poeple actually responsible for making payroll, shows how disconnected they are from the real world," Heck told the Sun. "It basically pulls the rug out from underneath Nevadans.
Democratic leaders in the Senate are furious with Republicans like Boehner and Heck for trying to scuttle a deal they struck with Republican Senate leaders that drew the support of 39 Republican senators.
“Instead of threatening middle-class families with a thousand-dollar tax hike, Speaker Boehner should bring up the bipartisan compromise that Senator [Mitch] McConnell and I negotiated,” Reid said. “I would hate to think that Speaker Boehner is refusing to act on this bipartisan compromise because he is afraid it will actually pass, but I cannot imagine any other reason why he would not bring it up for a vote.”
Reid and McConnell didn’t just agree to a payroll tax cut package Saturday, they also agreed to close the books on the Senate for the remainder of the year -- a move it will take the unanimous consent of all Senators to undo.
There are a handful of senators, and more House members, who don’t care to see anything done to extend the payroll tax cut. There are also plenty of Democratic lawmakers who don’t like the Senate-passed bill because it includes a mandate to President Barack Obama to render a decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast in the next two months (a concession to Republicans, though Democrats say Obama will simply decide to kill the project).
That could complicate any effort to get the Senate-passed version through the House with Boehner’s objection on the table, even if there are Republicans ready to flout his leadership and vote for the two-month package anyway.
But that isn't moving House members like Heck, who says the Senate never should have disbanded for the year before all the year's work was done.
"There’s no reason why we can’t come together on the extenders package," Heck said. "We’re willing to stay here and wait for the Senate...We have until December 31st."
House Republicans are gathering tonight to discuss a vote on the Senate-passed legislation, also scheduled for tonight, and the potential way forward thereafter.
If the two-month extension passes, Congress would be faced with this same battle in February, as most lawmakers agree that it’s too soon to let the payroll tax cut or unemployment benefits fall off the table.
But if it doesn’t, someone has to blink, or else come January 1st, anyone who draws a paycheck will see their payroll taxes increase from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent of their income, and anyone who has been collecting an unemployment check for more than 26 weeks will see it go away in the start of the new year.
Reid already pledged Monday not to re-open negotiations on the payroll tax cut until the House passes the two-month extension on the table.
“Before we re-open negotiations on a year-long extension, the House of Representatives must protect middle-class families by passing the overwhelmingly bipartisan compromise that Republicans negotiated, and was approved by 90 percent of the Senate,” Reid said. “If Republicans vote down the bipartisan compromise negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders, and passed by 89 senators including 39 Republicans, their intransigence will mean that in 10 days, 160 million middle class Americans will see a tax increase, over two million Americans will begin losing their unemployment benefits, and millions of senior citizens on Medicare could find it harder to receive treatment from physicians.”
Heller, who has been arguing for a payroll tax cut extension for weeks and was the official sponsor of the Republican senators’ initial proposal to get a year-long one done, echoed those sentiments in his comments.
“Congress can work out a solution without stopping the payroll tax cut extension for the middle class, jeopardizing seniors’ access to health care, or threatening unemployment insurance,” Heller said.
Heller was the third Republican senator to call on the House Republicans to pass the two-month payroll tax cut extender package Monday, following Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Richard Lugar of Indiana. Together, they are the three incumbent Republicans considered most vulnerable to Democratic challengers for their Senate seats in 2012.