House Republicans have narrowed their internal differences and plan to move ahead next week with legislation to renew the current payroll tax cut, extend unemployment benefits, and prevent Medicare physicians from experiencing an automatic pay cut.
But they’ve chosen to pay for elements of this bill with a hodgepodge of measures and reforms that will make it a non-starter in the Senate — including one provision that has drawn a veto threat from the White House. That puts Democrats and Republicans on a collision course over policies that leaders of both parties agree must pass — with only three weeks before they all automatically expire, and one week until members had hoped to adjourn for the holidays.
According to GOP sources and members, the GOP plans to offset the cost of the payroll tax cut and the so-called Medicare doc fix in several ways. The legislation will include partisan, or largely partisan measures to rescind federal benefits from wealthy Americans, require families receiving the Earned Income Tax Credit to prove their children’s citizenship, and cuts to President Obama’s health care law. It will also seek to force the administration to allow construction of the Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline, that would run from the Canadian border, through the plains states, to the Gulf of Mexico — a provision that has drawn an explicit veto threat.
Republicans don’t want this bill to fail unexpectedly as other must-pass bills have under GOP leadership this year. GOP aides predicted confidently that the legislation will get at least the minimum 218 votes required for passage, coming mostly or entirely from Republican members. If they’re right, the question is whether they treat it as a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and adjourn for the holidays, leaving Senate Democrats to pass their bill or nothing. Senate Dems insist they’re prepared to stick around DC through the holidays, to seize the bully pulpit, if Republicans pull that trick.
Republicans also seem ready to skirmish. “If President Obama threatens to veto it over a provision that creates American jobs, that’s a fight we’re ready to have,” said Michael Steel, spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner. If that’s how it goes down it’ll be a noisy New Year.
Brian Beutler is TPM's senior congressional reporter. Since 2009, he's led coverage of health care reform, Wall Street reform, taxes, the GOP budget, the government shutdown fight, and the debt limit fight. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.