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House GOP rejects two month payroll tax cut; Emerson votes no to Senate proposal

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner heads from a meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Dec. 19, 2011, to speak to the media. Partisan to the core, Congress careened toward a holiday-season standoff Monday on legislation to prevent a Social Security payroll tax increase for 160 million workers on Jan. 1.
(AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)
WASHINGTON -- The House on Tuesday rejected legislation to extend a payroll tax cut and jobless benefits for two months, drawing a swift rebuke from President Barack Obama that Republicans were threatening higher taxes on 160 million workers on Jan. 1.

Obama, in an appearance in the White House briefing room after the House vote, said the two-month compromise is the only way to stop payroll taxes from going up by two percentage points.

"Now let's be clear," Obama said in a surprise appearance in the White House briefing room. "The bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1. The only one."

Obama said failure to pass the Senate version of the payroll tax cut extension could endanger the U.S. economic recovery, which he described as "fragile but moving in the right direction."

House Republicans controlling the chamber want instead immediate negotiations on a year-long plan with the Senate -- where the top Democrat again ruled out talks until the House passes the stopgap measure.

"President Obama needs to call on Senate Democrats to go back into session ... and resolve this bill as soon as possible," said House Speaker Boehner, R-Ohio. "I need the president to help out."

If Congress doesn't break the stalemate and pass a bill by the end of the year, payroll taxes will go up by 2 percent for 160 million workers on Jan. 1. Almost 2 million people could lose unemployment benefits in January as well, and doctors would bear big cuts in Medicare payments.

The House vote, 229-193, kicks the measure back to the Senate, where the bipartisan two-month measure passed on Saturday by a sweeping 89-10 vote. The Senate then promptly left Washington for the holidays. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says he won't allow bargaining until the House approves the Senate's short-term measure.

"I have been trying to negotiate a yearlong extension with Republicans for weeks, and I am happy to continue doing so as soon as the House of Representatives passes the bipartisan compromise to protect middle-class families, but not before then," said Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., was on the road Tuesday, and her office pointed to her Twitter response, which criticized House Republicans: "R[epublican']s in [the H]ouse will fiercely fight to prevent taxes going up even a dime on [the] mega-wealthy, but ok with taxes going up on working families. Weird."

Sen. Roy Blunt's office pointed to an interview Blunt gave on CNN Sunday, in which Blunt agreed that a yearlong tax break would have been better. But he suggested then that his colleagues in the House should work through this.

U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Emerson was one of the votes Tuesday that kicked the measure back to the Senate.

"Obviously one year is preferable to two months because it brings some certainty," Emerson said. "... I think we should have extended it for a year."

Still, the Cape Girardeau Republican said there was time yet before the Jan. 31 deadline. Work could continue Monday, despite the fact that is the day after Christmas.

"I'm not confident about anything," Emerson said. "But that's five whole days we can be working on this and we should be."

The House vote caps a partisan debate on Obama's jobs agenda, which has featured numerous campaign-style appearances but little real bipartisan negotiation, other than Senate talks last week that produced the two-month extension.

The Senate's short-term, lowest-common-denominator approach would renew a 2 percent cut in the Social Security payroll tax, plus jobless benefits averaging about $300 a week for the long-term unemployed, and would prevent a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors. The $33 billion cost would be financed by a .10 percent increase in home loan guarantee fees charged by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which the administration says would raise the monthly payment on a typical $210,000 loan by about $15 a month.

The House passed a separate plan last week that would have extended the payroll tax cut for one year. But that version also contained spending cuts opposed by Democrats and tighter rules for jobless benefits.

Both the House and Senate bills included a provision designed to force Obama to make a decision on construction of the controversial Keystone XL pipeline, which would deliver up to 700,000 barrels of oil daily from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries in Texas. The provision requires him to issue the needed permit unless he declares the pipeline would not serve the national interest.

Democrats and the White House had reversed course and accepted GOP demands on Keystone, which contributed to sweeping GOP support for the Senate measure. The White House signaled that Obama would block the project.

Until this weekend, it was assumed that Boehner had signed off on the Senate measure. After all, it was agreed to by Boehner's trusted confidante, Senate GOP Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky. Boehner declined on several occasions Friday to reject the idea.

But rank-and-file House Republicans erupted in frustration at the Senate measure, which drops changes to the unemployment insurance system pressed by conservatives, a freeze in the salaries of federal workers and cuts to Obama's health care law.

Also driving their frustration was that the Senate, as it so often does, appeared intent on leaving the House holding the bag -- pressuring House lawmakers to go along with its plan. Tuesday's vote technically puts the onus back on the Senate -- but also invites a full-blown battle with Obama, whose poll numbers have inched up during the battling over his jobs initiative.

Both sides were eager to position themselves as the strongest advocates of the payroll tax cut, with House Republicans accusing the Senate of lollygagging on vacation and Senate Democrats countering that the House was seeking a partisan battle rather than taking the obvious route of approving the stopgap bill to buy more time for negotiations.

"If you say you want to do this for a year, put your vote where your rhetoric is," said Rep. Jeb Hensarling of Texas, a member of the House GOP leadership. "If you're not willing to work over the holidays, admit to the American people that you're not willing to work over the holidays."

"Right now Americans want two things from their Congress: middle class tax relief and compromise," said Rep. Steve Israel of New York, chairman of the House Democrats' fundraising committee. "House Republican partisanship failed on both counts."

Southeast Missourian staff writer Scott Moyers contributed to this report.

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Thanks Jo Ann for voting as you did.

-- Posted by nolimitsonthought on Tue, Dec 20, 2011, at 4:38 PM

This tax reduction is really just a sham. We are taking a 2% reduction in funding the trust fund for our retirement. This fund is going broke. It will only go broke faster if cut the funding.

Are we ready to raise the retirement age to fund this 2% holiday? The answer is no! We will continue putting this liability off on our kids so we can spend a couple grand today. Just like our parents did to us.

This is how we racked up $18,000,000,000,000.00 debt. Don't tax me but let my kids pay the bill later. Shows you just how much of a pyramid scheme social security is.

-- Posted by yy4me on Tue, Dec 20, 2011, at 4:45 PM

Thanks Jo Ann for voting no you made the right decision. I agree with yy4me all this amounts to is a sham. Frankly I don't want the 2% less deduction coming from the social security trust fund and furthermore the extended unemployment benefits needs to cease ten of them is enough and the price tag for this give away is nearing one trillion dollars. Enough is enough it is time to face reality, we cannot get out of this mess if we continue to hand out the time has come to start rebuilding and some people need to wake up and smell the coffee.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Tue, Dec 20, 2011, at 5:18 PM

I hope none of you are unemployed.People are hurting through no fault of their own. There are no jobs.

-- Posted by Dexterite1 on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 6:10 AM

We need to get rid of Jo Ann and all those worthless republicans for that matter. Extra taxes are not going to affect her with all the pay, lobbiest money, and special interest money. Oh and did I mention her 100 % insurance coverage you pay for? The middle class is going to feel this tax hike.

-- Posted by truthdetector on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 6:16 AM

Dexterite1: We have had 10 of these extended unemployment benefit bills passed 99 weeks which is nearly two years, you cannot sit here and tell me a person cannot find a job doing something within that time. No doubt it might not be the job they want or pay as much as the job they had when they were laid off, but by gosh it is a pay check coming in. Many people work two to three jobs per week they have chose not to sit on there butts for nearly two years they got out and found these jobs and they are out there but the pay might not be the greatest. This program has went on so long that tremendous amount of fraud has taken over, some draw these benefits and work side jobs for cash which goes un-reported and make around $600.00-$700.00 per week. The price tag on this extended program is nearing one trillion dollars, right here in Missouri we owe the Fed nearly 758 million dollars that we have borrowed from them because our U/I fund is insolvent and furthermore contributions rates are going up on employers because of all of this. Enough is enough if the extensions were reduced or eliminated by the Fed you would see the national unemployment rate drop anywhere from 1-1.5%. I talk to employers everyday they have jobs but people will not take them, many say it will interfere with there unemployment benefits.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 9:18 AM

Representative Emerson has fallen into a pattern of lock step behind the powers in the House and lost her value as an independent thinker. We don't have to be told how she votes anymore, we already know how she will vote. HOW SHE IS TOLD TO VOTE!!!! Sad development, and a sad end to a once great Representative. I also predict the Republicans will pay a price for once again submitting to blackmail by a few so called tea party members rather than working for the people they were elected to serve.

-- Posted by wrcactus on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 9:19 AM

So all of you against Emerson want to "raid the social security trust fund"? You want to hurt the seniors and most vulnerable in our country by cuts to the SS fund? Aren't these your democrat talking points?

-- Posted by Dug on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 4:32 PM

swamp: Why don't you list those employers on here. Maybe someone will see that and apply for the jobs. Oh, wait, are you just pulling our leg you rascal?

-- Posted by howdydoody on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 6:20 PM

Howdy: Read signs HELP WANTED go in to businesses and apply, read the want adds there is employers needing people they just cannot find them to work because some fear it might interfere with there precious unemployment benefits. But looking for a job does require you to get up at a decent hour in the morning and not sleep all day or lay on the couch also, you might have to leave your local area for a few days because the job requires it. One employer is the Inland Waterways Operators (On the river as a deckhand) Truck Drivers, Local Taxi Service drivers, Newspaper Delivery (Oh that is to early in the morning) food chains, railroads (If the person has the qualifications) janitors, school bus drivers, local delivery drivers, local grocery chain just to name a few. Some of these might not be the job the person likes at the time but is better than nothing.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 9:12 PM

Howdy; For got one security guard.

-- Posted by swampeastmissouri on Wed, Dec 21, 2011, at 9:36 PM

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