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Through a series of procedural moves, Speaker of the House John Boehner has all but killed the extension of the payroll tax holiday for 2011, meaning that taxes will go up January 1, 2012, for 160 million Americans. After months of wrangling, the plan was for the House to pass a two-month extension for the payroll tax holiday that had already passed the Senate with 89 votes. But Boehner didn't want that bill to pass. His stance seems to be that if the holiday isn't extended, that Barack Obama and Democrats will get the blame, so he's pulling out all the stops to prevent it from passing.
In a set of moves that couldn't be more convoluted if they were written by George Orwell, Boehner canceled an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill because he knew that it likely would've passed with bipartisan support. He couldn't get enough Republicans to hold the line against the bill, with enough of his caucus either realizing that passing the extension was either the right thing to do or the politically expedient thing to do. Instead he scheduled a vote that, regardless of how members voted, was a vote against the Senate bill. In order to give his members the cover of a "yes" vote on the extension, the bill that came to a vote was very complicated. A "yes" vote called on a conference committee to be established while rejecting the Senate bill. A "no" vote would reject both the Senate bill and the conference committee. In a 229-193, the measure passed. But Boehner knew that the Senate had already concluded business for the year. Harry Reid has stood uncharacteristically firm against Boehner's ploy and said that the Senate already passed a bill and they won't be coming back this year and he won't be appointing members to a conference committee.
Boehner also had to know that the chances of a conference working anything out in the 11 days before the holiday expired would be unlikely, if not impossible. In effect, he put forth a bill that he knew almost guaranteed that nothing would happen before January and that taxes would go up. Boehner's argument is that it is the "regular order" of the Congress to send bills where there is disagreement to conference committee to hammer out the differences. While this is often true, it isn't required and, more importantly, it is a "regular order" that Boehner himself has defied when it suited his purposes, such as when he wanted to assault unions:
That’s “regular order” in a traditional sense, but it’s not even close to how this Congress has operated in practice. Case in point: both the House and Senate have passed legislation to reauthorize federal aviation programs on a semi-permanent basis. One key area of disagreement between the parties is a provision in the House bill that would make it much more difficult for rail and airline workers to unionize — just the sort of provision that could be the focal point of negotiations in a conference committee.
But House Republicans won’t let that happen, and have pushed a series of temporary reauthorizations instead.
Vince Morris, a spokesman for Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) notes the irony.
“Speaker Boehner says it’s important that the Senate agree to sit down and conference out the differences between the House and Senate payroll tax extension bill,” Morris says. “It’s worth noting that for nearly a year, Boehner has steadfastly refused to appoint conferees on the FAA bill. Chairman Rockefeller has asked repeatedly for the Speaker to appoint conferees. Instead he has been satisfied with a series of short term extensions. In fact, the latest short term extension expires in barely a month. If short term extensions are fine for the FAA, what’s wrong with a 2 month payroll extension?”
The initial push for the extension called for a full year's extension and Democrats already gave up significant concessions in earlier negotiations:
They have dropped an income surtax for those earning over a million dollars that would have paid for the payroll cuts and have allowed language in the bill that will force the president to make a quicker determination on building a trans-continental crude oil pipeline.
The two-month extension would be funded by increased fees upon Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, another concession from Democrats at a time when House Republicans have refused to compromise or work with Democrats in any substantial way. Instead, it appears the House will pass a nonbinding resolution saying they'd really like for the extension to pass, while doing nothing to actually allow it to pass (like voting for it).
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