House Speaker John Boehner today urged Democrats to come to terms with Republicans on a year-long extension to the payroll tax cut, as negotiations between conferees struggle to yield progress on a path towards a deal.
At his weekly news conference, the speaker once again suggested that Democrats should give up on a proposed tax hike on millionaires to pay for the extensions, which Democrats have persistently called for it to cover the cost of the extensions.
"They refuse to allow any alternatives at all except for a job-killing small business tax hike that they know can't pass the Senate, much less pass the House," Boehner, R-Ohio, said. "If the president wants to get this done, I think he needs to let [Senate Finance] Chairman [Max] Baucus and the Democrat conferees do their work. Right now the only ones blocking an agreement are Senate Democrats and the president. It's time for them to act."
The surtax is a polarizing, but popular idea, enjoying 72 percent support from Americans in a new ABC News/ Washington Post poll. Still, four votes in the Senate on various proposals to raise taxes on millionaires failed to gain adequate support late last year. President Obama has said that passing a year-long extension of the payroll tax hike is his highest legislative priority this year. Congress has until Feb. 29 before the current two-month stop gap measure agreed to last December expires.
"It's certainly fair to ask does the president want to accomplish anything this year? Time's running short on the payroll issue," Boehner said. "House Republicans did what the president asked us to do. We passed a full-year extension of the payroll tax credit [and] unemployment benefits fully paid for as the president said that they must be. But the president and Senate Democrat leaders will not allow their conferees to support a reasonable bipartisan agreement on spending cuts."
The speaker also frowned at a proposal that Congress use savings from winding down of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to offset the cost of the so-called "doc fix" for physicians providing Medicare services.
"It needs to pass the 'straight face' test,'" Boehner said. "The fact is that we are going to spend less in our war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq, [but] to use those…savings to propel more spending doesn't seem to make a great deal of sense to me."
The speaker would not reveal how much more delay would inspire the congressional leadership to take the lead on negotiations.
"Listen, we appoint conferees between the House and Senate to resolve these differences, but they need to get moving. This all needs to happen," he said. "I'm not going to create some artificial deadline, for me or you. I've been there. I've done that. I'm not doing it again. The sooner the better."
After passing the STOCK Act today by a bipartisan vote of 417-2, Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the bipartisan tally is proof that "we've got some work to do to restore the bond of trust with the public."
"We saw today on the floor what the two sides can do if they're willing to work together," Cantor, R-Va., said. "This was a bill about ensuring that we abide by the trust in the people that sent us here. It was about making sure that there no perception or reality, as far as members of Congress or those in Washington - ability to use nonpublic information for personal profit. That was the subject of the bill."