WASHINGTON — Congress appeared headed Monday for one more collision over spending and taxes, with Republicans in the House poised to reject a pre-Christmas deal that would temporarily extend a tax cut set to expire at the end of the year.
The House was expected to vote later Monday on a $33 billion bill that would extend for two months a reduction in Social Security payroll taxes from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent, along with a two-month continuation of payments up to 99 weeks for people who have been out of work for extended periods.
The bill also would put off for two months a scheduled 27 percent cut in payments to doctors who treat Medicare patients, a provision meant to ensure that physicians will continue treating the elderly.
The Senate passed the extensions on Saturday by an 89-10 vote. Without legislation, payroll taxes revert to the higher rate on Jan. 1.
But House Republicans were in revolt on Monday, and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, predicted they will vote down the compromise, unhappy with a temporary fix — which expires on Feb. 29 — as opposed to a year-long extension they approved last week.
That GOP bill was rejected by Democratic leaders, who complained that it would cut spending in certain programs set up by last year’s health care reform and contained Medicare changes they said would result in benefit cuts. It also would have reduced the total number of weeks that the unemployed could collect payments, along with establishing new job search and retraining requirements.
Nevada Republican Reps Joe Heck and Mark Amodei said they planned to reject the two-month extension. Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev., said she would be voting for it.
"I am against the two-month extension," Heck said. "It does not provide the stability or the predictability or the certainty that the American people and certainly Nevadans are looking for. We sent over a one-year extension that took care of all the major issues."
"And now you want to come back and say, ‘Oh, now we are going to do this for two months?’ " Heck said. "We cannot continue to govern in this haphazard patchwork fashion. Doing this in two months serves absolutely no purpose other than political, to try to bring this fight up in February when we should be concentrating on the number one priority of trying to get the economy going and creating jobs."
"I’m baffled at 60 days," Amodei said. "Why wouldn’t you provide some stability?" Amodei added chances of lawmakers coming up with an agreement in an election year are slim.
"If there’s one thing that Nevadans do not need more of, it’s the ‘problems, confusion and costs’ created by the 60-day plan," Amodei said. "That is why I am more than willing to work for the next two weeks to provide some longer-term certainty so that Nevadans can plan their lives accordingly for the coming year."
But Berkley said the House would be "shamed" if the tax cuts expired. In Nevada, she said, 1.2 million people would see their taxes rise as much as $1,247.
"Nevada’s middle-class families who still have a job cannot afford a massive tax increase in January, but that is exactly the direction we appear to be heading toward thanks to the tea party extremists in the House of Representatives," Berkley said in a House speech.
According to a chart distributed by Democrats on Monday, an average family in Nevada would see a payroll tax hike of $1,066. In Clark County, the increase would be $1,070.
"I demand this House not allow a massive middle-class tax increase, and let us do our business before we go home and not shame ourselves and the American people by leaving them in the lurch during the holiday season," Berkley said.
The late session confrontation is the third big showdown propelled by House Republican freshmen who have taken more militant stances on fiscal matters in bids to shrink federal spending. A GOP revolt on appropriations earlier this year threatened to shut down the government, and a mid-summer fight over federal borrowing powers took the government to the brink of default.
Boehner told reporters on Monday the House will vote to establish a conference committee to negotiate a longer-term deal with the Senate over payroll taxes. That raised the prospect that Congress could indeed stay in session through the holidays to avert the tax cut expiring.
But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., took a hard line. He said he had no intent to call the Senate back into session after it had recessed Saturday for the holidays.
"My House colleagues should be clear on what their vote means today," Reid said in a statement. "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 ten 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."
Reid said the weekend compromise was put together at Boehner’s request, only to find the House speaker himself distancing from it.
"Democratic and Republican leaders negotiated a compromise and Speaker Boehner should not walk away from it, putting middle-class families at risk of a thousand-dollar tax hike just because a few angry Tea Partiers raised their voices to the Speaker," Reid said in a statement.
"I have always sought a year-long extension," Reid said. "I have been trying to forge one for weeks, and I am happy to continue negotiating one once we have made sure middle-class families will not wake up to a tax increase on January 1st."
Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., voted for the compromise legislation on Saturday. On Monday, he urged House Republicans to do the same, joining Republican Sens. Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Richard Lugar of Indiana in calling for an end to the conflict.
"There is no question we need to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for the entire year," Heller said. "The American people deserve long-term, forward-thinking policies. However, there is no reason to hold up the short-term extension while a more comprehensive deal is being worked out.
"What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people," Heller said.
Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at email@example.com or 202-783-1760.