The House passed its payroll tax cut Christmas tree of a bill yesterday, with a minimal amount of defections from the conservative wing of the caucus. The final vote was 234-193. Fourteen Republicans voted against the measure, while ten Democrats (Barrow, Boren, Boswell, Braley, Cardoza, Donnelly, Loebsack, Matheson, Ross, Walz) voted for it. I’m sure there’s a reason the entire Iowa Democratic delegation broke ranks and voted for the bill, I’m just not sure what it is.
Prior to the vote, Democrats forced action on a motion to recommit, their only chance to get a message vote in the House. This motion to recommit would have added the STOCK Act, the bill banning insider trading among members of Congress, to the bill. Eric Cantor blocked a version of that bill from a House Financial Services Committee markup last week. The MTR would have also added a millionaire’s surtax to the bill. Republicans resisted the motion to recommit, as they have all year with good voting discipline. So now every House Republican is on the record as voting against a ban on insider trading. That will come in handy in the elections next year.
Harry Reid was quick to announce that the legislation stood no chance of passage in his chamber. He said on the Senate floor, “The bill passed by House Republicans tonight is a pointless partisan exercise. The bill is dead on arrival in the Senate. It was dead before it got to the Senate.” Similarly, the President, who had already threatened a veto of the bill, harshly criticized the measure through Press Secretary Jay Carney.
This Congress needs to do its job and stop the tax hike that’s scheduled to affect 160 million Americans in 18 days. This is not a time for Washington Republicans to score political points against the President. It’s not a time to refight old ideological battles. And it’s not a time to break last summer’s bipartisan agreement and hurt the middle class by cutting things like education, clean energy, and veterans’ programs without asking the wealthiest Americans to pay their fair share.
The focus on the Keystone XL pipeline is a bit of a red herring here. The bill has a host of other highly ideological elements, including the cutback of unemployment benefits over a six-month period from a 99-week program down to 59 weeks; the increase in Medicare premiums for “the rich” which actually dips all the way down to individuals who make as little as $85,000 a year; cuts to exchange subsidy payments and the Public Health and Prevention Fund from the Affordable Care Act; and several other measures. In fact, considering that the State Department said yesterday that they would be forced to reject the permit for Keystone XL if this legislation demanded they come to a decision within 60 days, the fastest way to kill the pipeline would be to pass this bill. And it would bear the mark of the Republicans to boot! So that’s not a poison pill; it’s really everything else.
Reid and House Speaker John Boehner have had a couple private conversations, but far less than you would expect for a negotiation session. In fact, most of the negotiations, via threats, are playing out in the media. That doesn’t bode well for a resolution. The Democrats took a bold gamble by tying passage of the payroll tax cut legislation to an omnibus spending bill already completed by House and Senate appropriators. If no agreement is reached by Friday, government funding runs out and we enter a shutdown situation. This is an enormous risk but could be what the leadership needs to actually work out a solution.
In addition to government funding, the payroll tax and unemployment insurance, many in Congress want to deal with several other year-end measures that would otherwise expire, including a doctor’s fix to avoid a 27% cut in Medicare reimbursement, a patch for the alternative minimum tax, a multitude of corporate tax breaks, including the wind and solar energy production tax credit, and the defense authorization bill.