When Spending Bills, Payroll Tax Debates Collide

Dec 13, 2011 12:38pm

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is threatening to hold up the bill to fund the government until a deal is struck on the payroll tax cut extension and unemployment benefits.

In a move that is certain to fuel anger among Republicans, Reid is attempting to prevent House members from passing a spending package, passing their own bill for payroll tax and unemployment benefits and then leaving town for the holiday.

Such a move would then give Reid and the Senate little or no choice but to stomach the House bills.

In an attempt to prevent that, Reid has made it known to House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, that he could prevent final votes on the government funding bill until a deal is worked out on the other issues. The government is set to run out of money Friday.

Tying the two issues, Democrats believe, would give them more leverage in the payroll tax debate and guarantee that they keep members of the House in town to see negotiations through. Reid could try to pass an extension to fund the government through next week, as negotiators continue trying to broker a deal on the other issues.

Not surprisingly, Republicans jumped at highlighting the Democrats’ maneuver this morning, calling it “irresponsible,” and “reckless.”

“The president and the Democratic majority leader, my friend, Harry Reid, are now saying they’d rather shut down the government than allow this job-creating legislation to become law. That’s what would happen if they succeed in blocking this bipartisan funding bill from coming to the floor for a vote,” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said on the Senate floor today. “He’ll ask his members to hold off signing the government funding legislation they’ve already agreed to on a bipartisan basis just to hand the president what they view as a political victory this week.”

Democrats dispute that the spending bill had been agreed on and say the omnibus bill is nowhere close to being completed, pointing to at least five major outstanding issues: D.C. abortion, DoD coal reclamation, CFTC funding, Cuba travel and energy efficiency.

Republicans say a deal was made and there is nothing left to work through on the spending bill.

The House will vote later today on its own payroll tax extension bill that also extends unemployment insurance.

Democrats in the Senate are adamantly opposed to the bill because of the inclusion of what they call a “poison pill,” the Keystone XL oil pipeline provision. President Obama has also opposed the provision’s inclusion, stopping short of an explicit presidential veto threat.

“I’m very disappointed in what the speaker has done to get a vote over there that he thinks will pass. He keeps adding ideological candy to the proposal,” Sen. Reid said today. “President Obama and the Democrats in the Senate already declared the House legislation dead on arrival yet, after weeks of delay, Republicans are going to vote on it tonight.”

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