Congress Passes Two-Month Extension of Tax Cut, Unemployment Insurance

The House of Representatives agreed by unanimous consent to pass a temporary two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, a medicare reimbursement "doc fix" and unemployment insurance benefits, delaying a contentious battle over a longer-term solution until early next year.

House Speaker John Boehner presided over a pro forma session this morning as Rep. Jo Ann Emerson, R-Mo, requested unanimous consent to pass the bill.  No members objected and the deal was quickly agreed to. Earlier Friday morning, the Senate also quickly agreed to the measure by unanimous consent.

As Boehner left the House chamber and walked back to his office across the Capitol, he ignored a blitz of questions related to how he felt about the agreement.

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer and a small contingent of House Democrats praised President Obama's leadership during the stalemate over the bill, which was passed overwhelmingly by the Senate but House leaders had until yesterday refused to allow a vote on it, instead holding out for a one-year extension.

"We are very pleased today that the anxiety and fear that Americans had has been resolved.  We're pleased at this agreement," Hoyer, D-Md., said. "I also want to congratulate President Obama, who showed great leadership in this effort and articulated to the American people what was at issue here in the Congress of the United States."

"A big cheer to a guy named Barack Obama, the president of the United States, because he started this campaign a long time ago to really press on the need, the urgency to help middle-class, working Americans," echoed Rep. Xavier Becerra, D-Calif. "It took months to try to make clear how important this issue was, but we're moving forward."

But disagreements on how to pay for a long-term extension as well as how to reform the unemployment insurance program linger.

Today, Hoyer and his Democratic colleagues declined to detail their strategy to heading into bipartisan, bicameral conference negotiations, which are expected to begin shortly after Jan. 1.

"Now is not the time to get into the specifics of the negotiations," Hoyer said. "There are differences between the two parties, which was why this extension was necessary.  And we'll obviously have to deal with those details.  But the conference committee will be convened, I believe, in - after the holidays, and they will be working on those issues."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi today appointed five Democrats to join the negotiations next month: Rep. Sander Levin, the top Democrat on Ways and Means, Xavier Becerra and Chris Van Hollen, two members of the failed supercommittee on deficit reduction, Henry Waxman, the ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce, and Allyson Schwartz, D-Pa.