House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, phoned President Obama this morning and asked him to send members of his economic team to the Capitol to end the political stalemate and negotiate a path toward a one-year extension of the payroll tax credit. The president declined the offer.
"With Sen. Reid having declined to call his members back to Washington this week to join the House in negotiating a full-year extension of the payroll tax cut, the speaker proposed that the president send members of his economic policy team up to Congress to find a way to accommodate the president's full-year request," a senior aide to the speaker said. "The speaker explained his concern that flaws in the Senate-passed bill will be unworkable for many small-business job creators. He reiterated that if their shared goal is a one-year bill, there is no reason an agreement cannot be reached before year's end. The president declined the speaker's offer."
According to the White House, the president told Boehner "the only viable option" is the two-month extension, but Obama "is committed to begin working immediately on a full-year agreement once the House passes the bipartisan Senate compromise that prevents a tax hike on 160 million Americans on Jan. 1."
At about the same time as the speaker's call to the president, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined a chorus of GOP senators in calling for Boehner and House Republicans to compromise on a two-month temporary extension to lure Democrats to the conference committee negotiating table on a long-term deal.
"House Republicans sensibly want greater certainty about the duration of these provisions, while Senate Democrats want more time to negotiate the terms. These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both," McConnell wrote in a statement this morning. "Leader Reid should appoint conferees on the long-term bill and the House should pass an extension that locks in the thousands of Keystone XL pipeline jobs, prevents any disruption in the payroll tax holiday or other expiring provisions and allows Congress to work on a solution for the longer extensions."
This morning Boehner, Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and the House GOP's eight conferees held a news conference for the second straight day to call on Democrats to return to Washington and negotiate a one-year deal.
Faced with growing pressure from prominent conservatives to accept the two-month stop-gap measure, Boehner said that "sometimes it's hard to do the right thing, but we're working to do the right thing."
"Politics will be politics. Our team believes it's always right to do the best thing. And the fact is as I've told my colleagues what my parents taught me and what I talked to my kids about growing up: If you do the right things for the right reasons, the right things will happen," Boehner said at a news conference this morning. "Everybody's already agreed that the best policy is the one year extension of these policies. All we're fighting for is what everybody has already agreed to. Let's sit down and resolve the differences."
Cantor recalled the president's holiday shopping trip yesterday with his dog, Bo, and encouraged the president to make the journey to Capitol Hill to hash out a deal.
"I saw the president out yesterday doing his Christmas shopping. I saw he brought his dog with him," Cantor, R-Va., said. "We're here. He could bring his dog up here. We are pet friendly. It will not take a long time. We could probably resolve the differences within an hour."
Immediately following the GOP's news conference, House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and other senior Democrats answered with their own news conference to pressure Republicans to accept the two-month extension and create a path to continue negotiations on a one-year measure.
"Republicans have been arguing about process and politics," Hoyer said. "The stakes are too high to be arguing about politics and process. The Republican contention that the two-month compromise somehow is unworkable is simply untrue."
Wednesday, Hoyer and Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the top Democrat on the House Budget committee, attempted to pass the Senate's bill under unanimous consent, but the pro forma session ended before the duo was recognized.
"We could have had this bill to the president's desk last night. If we open up the House chamber and take up that bill, bipartisan bill, we could have the bill to the president's desk tonight," Van Hollen said. "The keys to those doors are in their hands and the keys to this problem are in their hands and it's very simple: Everybody in the country knows that this is not Democrats versus Republicans. This is Senate Democrats, Senate Republicans, the president and the American people saying to the House Republicans, 'What are you doing here letting the clock run down in raising taxes on 160 million Americans?'"
The House of Representatives returns for another pro forma session Friday morning. Could Democrats attempt to bring up the Senate compromise once again? "You never can tell," Hoyer answered as he left the podium. "Stay tuned," echoed Michigan Democrat Sander Levin.