With the House Republicans divided on whether to extend the payroll tax cut holiday, House Speaker John Boehner today says he expects the discussion to continue with rank and file members this week, and he maintained that the cost of any extension must be paid for with alternative savings.
"We're continuing to talk to our members. We talked to them last week, we got their input, we're continuing to work on this, and we expect that before the week's over, we'll talk to our members again," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "It's important for us to have these deliberations with our colleagues before we introduce a bill, and we'll do it just that way."
House Republicans met late last week to hash out the internal divisions about whether to extend the holiday and, if so, how best to pay for it. On one hand, fiscal conservatives were elected with a mandate to cut spending and are uneasy about adding to the deficit, which has grown to more than $15 trillion. On the other hand, no Republican wants to be perceived as raising taxes on the middle class.
With the conference expected to meet as soon as tomorrow to continue discussions, Boehner said that so far it's been a "good conversation" and he added, "Frankly, I'm pretty pleased about it."
"There's a lot of debate about how best to do this," Boehner said. "The concern about the payroll tax cut is … that we're taking money out of the Social Security trust fund. We have a trust fund that we all know is going broke. Real work needs to be done to preserve the Social Security trust fund so that we can make sure that we've got the money to pay the benefits for the tens of millions of Americans who depend on them."
If Congress fails to agree on an extension, economists say about 160 million Americans would see a $1,000 tax increase.
"If in fact you're going to take money out of the Social Security trust fund, in our view it has to be replaced," Boehner maintained. "That's the path that we've continued to look at."
The House of Representatives is aiming to conclude its legislative business by Dec. 16, leaving just seven legislative days for lawmakers to reconcile its differences on the payroll tax cut holiday, an unemployment insurance extension, and sustainable growth rate (SGR for short, also known as the "Doc-fix") that reimburses physicians caring for Medicare patients - not to mention a solution on nine outstanding appropriations bills or a continuing resolution.
Recognizing that time is not a luxury on Capitol Hill, Majority Leader Eric Cantor says that Republicans "are committed to trying to work with [Democrats] to produce results" for the American people, and he suggested he would continue to seek common ground in order to help repair the economy.
"As we end the calendar year, there are obviously a lot of things still on the table to be resolved," Cantor, R-Va., admitted. "The American people want to see an economy that grows again, and they want to get back to work. We are going to continue to look for ways to put some wins on the board so that we can demonstrate some results and people can begin to regain their confidence about the future for themselves and their family."
Earlier this week Democrats unveiled what they billed as "compromise" legislation, but it included a surtax on millionaires to help offset the cost of the extension - a point of contention that's become a non-starter for Congressional Republicans.
Boehner once again urged Senate Democrats to act on a slate of House-passed jobs bills that are languishing in the upper chamber, and he called on the president to be "helpful" and convince his former Senate compatriots to vote on the bills.
"While our Democrat friends continue to insist on massive tax increases on small business people around America, Republicans continue to focus on the priority of the American people, and that is jobs," Boehner said. "We've got 25 jobs bills that are sitting in the United States Senate - part of our plan to help America's job creators. We're going to send two more of those jobs bills over to the Senate this week, and we hope that they'll begin to focus in on what will really help the America economy and get Americans back to work."
"The president could be helpful here. He could actually urge the Senate to consider these 25 bills that will put the American people back to work," Boehner continued. "All of these bills have passed the House with bipartisan support."