House Republican leaders abandoned plans to vote Monday night and into Tuesday morning on the Senate's payroll tax-cut package. "These votes will take place... in the light of day," said GOP Whip Kevin McCarthy of California after House Republicans confabbed for more than two hours.
“The overwhelming sentiment in our conference is that [Senate Majority Leader Harry] Reid is the one who should be ashamed,” said one senior House GOP source.
Tuesday's votes will include a rule, a motion to reject the Senate plan, and a motion to form a conference committee to hash out differences with the Senate, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said.
This is in line with the leadership's earlier plans to reject the Senate's two-month extension of the payroll-tax cut but not to do so outright. The procedural move is designed to gain the upper hand in end-game negotiations with the Senate. It also means that lawmakers are not voting directly on rejecting the two-month payroll tax-cut compromise, something Democrats immediately decried.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Republican leaders are not bringing the legislation for an up-or-down vote because they would be unhappy with the outcome.
“My guess is that they are afraid that their members are not going to stick with them,” Pelosi said on Monday night. “The reason Republicans are not taking 'yes' for an answer is because 'no' is their answer,” she said. “Radical tea party Republicans are holding up this tax cut.”
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said Senate Democrats must come back to Washington and admit their bill is dead. Reid says he will not call back the Senate before Christmas and maintains that Senate Democrats won't be blamed if taxes are raised for the average working family by approximately $1,000.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., picked up Pelosi's theme.
“Speaker Boehner should allow an up-or-down vote on the compromise that [Senate Minority Leader Mitch] McConnell and I negotiated at Speaker Boehner’s request, and which was supported by 89 Republican and Democratic senators."
Boehner will likely name his conferees before the House votes to form a conference committee, against Democratic objections, on Tuesday.
McConnell has told Boehner he will offer GOP support in the Senate for unanimous consent to appoint conferees to pressure Reid, the aides say. House Republicans are contemplating other ways to publicly force Reid's hand, including holding a conference committee that cannot convene for a lack of Democratic attendance.
Despite Boehner’s call for Congress to continue its work, most House Republicans will be allowed to return to their districts. Senior House GOP aides say only leadership and conferees will actually stay in Washington.
“There’s nothing for our other members to do until the Senate does something,” one top-level aide said. “So most members won’t be here.”
The House threat to attack the Senate for going on vacation rather than negotiating a compromise bill represents a reversal of the situation less than two weeks ago. At the time, President Obama and Senate Democratic leaders, concerned the House would pass its preferred payroll tax-cut extension then leave town without letting the Senate alter it, were threatening to stay in Washington and launch daily attacks on Republicans for leaving.
Republicans are now throwing those statements back at Democrats in an effort to increase pressure on Reid to agree to a conference.
These are the latest developments in a fight that was renewed unexpectedly this weekend after the deal to extend the 2 percent payroll-tax cut for two months was agreed to by the Senate but then rejected by House Republicans.
Each side is locked in combat and seeking advantage as the benefits will evaporate on Jan. 1 if no agreement is reached. The measure also would extend unemployment benefits and spare doctors from a 27 percent Medicare reimbursement pay cut.
At a news conference with about 10 other freshmen, Rep. Allen West, R-Fla., said the Senate is “playing a very ugly game of political chicken with the American people."
Senate Republicans were not spared from the ire of their House counterparts.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., said he is “troubled” that the Senate approved the deal in an 89-10 vote, meaning most Republicans voted for it.
The intrasquad sniping among Republicans continued all day as some Senate Republicans said it was the House GOP that was in the wrong.
Republican Sens. Dean Heller of Nevada, Olympia Snowe of Maine, Richard Lugar of Indiana, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts all urged Boehner to move the Senate version. Those senators hold seats Democrats hope to pick up next year.
“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. “What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people.”
Earlier, Brown blasted the House GOP position in a statement. “The House Republicans' plan to scuttle the deal to help middle-class families is irresponsible and wrong,” Brown said. “I appreciate their effort to extend these measures for a full year, but a two-month extension is a good deal when it means we avoid jeopardizing the livelihoods of millions of American families.”
The White House has made its displeasure clear with Republican leaders' apparent about-face.
“We need a partner in this,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. Referring to the Senate compromise, Carney said: “We had a partner in this. Blowing up the process now is playing politics with the paychecks of 160 million Americans."
Dan Friedman, Ben Terris, Shane Goldmacher, Katy O'Donnell, and Kelsey Snell contributed