House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, Thursday morning sought to rally rank-and-file Republicans around a GOP payroll-tax holiday and unemployment package—even if aspects may not measure up to all their expectations—in part by encouraging them to consider all the other things they’ve accomplished this year.
In a plea that seemed geared mostly toward reticent conservatives, Boehner told his conference in a closed-door conference that “this is the hand we’ve been dealt”—that is, being forced into a eleventh-hour scramble to address these issues, in part because of the failure of the deficit-reduction super committee to reach agreement.
But Boehner told members that the $180 billion GOP package is “fully paid for.”
And during his closed-door pitch to members, Boehner also sought to underscore that Republicans, in his view, should be proud of what they’ve already accomplished this year in the House majority—such as slowing down spending—even if some of their number now might not want to see the payroll-tax holiday extended, or other parts of the package approved.
“Now, we need to step up to the plate,” one senior Republican described Boehner as saying, suggesting that Republicans as well as Democrats alike need to reach some compromises.
But while Boehner’s message to his members seemed to be one urging bipartisanship, members’ descriptions of some key elements of the $180 billion package to extend the tax holiday and keep federal jobless benefits going—and also renew the so-called “doc fix” for two years—are sure to ignite partisan fisticuffs. The controversial items include:
- Language to accelerate approval of the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline project despite President Obama's pledge to veto any such move;
- An estimated $10 billion to be raised by cracking down on undocumented immigrants who receive a child tax credit (they would now be required to present a Social Security number);
- Provisions instructing states that they are permitted to institute such unemployment-insurance reforms, such as drug testing; and
- Language that, while keeping unemployment insurance going, will begin the process of scaling back the potential length of unemployment insurance starting sometime in 2012. The maximum currently is 99 weeks, but in January that would lowered to 79 weeks and in summer it would go down to 59 weeks.
After the conference, Boehner told reporters he believed the message and information given to members was “well-received,” and that he was “confident about our ability to move ahead.” House Republicans intend to introduce their plan in bill form by Friday.
But attaching the language to force quick approval of the project is sure to be a big thumb in the eye for Obama and other Democrats. The proposal to build a pipeline from the Canadian Tar Sands to the Gulf Coast is opposed by many environmentalists; the Obama administration has agreed to further review the proposal for potential health and safety concerns.
But Republicans say the Obama administration’s delay of the project jeopardizes the creation of more than 20,000 new jobs, inspiring more unity among House Republicans.
“What the president has done by throwing down the gauntlet with the veto threat, he wants to block this payroll-tax holiday and unemployment [insurance] because he wants to stop a project that’s going to create 20,000 jobs? Let him do it and let him be accountable,” said Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y.
The bill also would call for studies on how to break the politically arduous process of lawmakers having to renew every year or two the doc fix to prevent physicians who treat Medicare patients from seeking a pay cut. If allowed to expire at the end of this year, physicians would see a 27 percent pay cut—but the GOP plan would extend it for two more years.
House Republicans plan to cover the cost of the $38 billion doc fix by going back into the 2010 health reform law and requiring people who misreport their income to pay back insurance subsidies. Part of the cost would also be covered by stopping a Medicare practice that has the federal government covering hospital co-pays and deductibles for seniors that don’t pay them.
On inclusion of the Keystone XL project in the package, Boehner told reporters, “It’s pretty clear that the president decided to push this decision off for a year—conveniently after his next election.”
But he said it is a bipartisan, job-creation proposal that will create “tens of thousands of jobs immediately” and “that the president ought to endorse.”
Also attached to the bill will be a provision easing environmental regulations on boilers.
One item that had been floated by some conservatives—a corporate repatriation-tax holiday—is not added to the legislation. And although Boehner has been telling members that it could be included in tax reforms that will be a big agenda item next year, few expect any real reforms to occur during the 2012 election year.
“This bill doesn’t have everything in it that either side wants, but from our perspective this represents a bill that does make some progress. It continues to change the culture of spending to one of savings,” House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., told reporters.
Ben Terris contributed