House and Senate Pass Payroll Tax Cut Extension Bill
The House passed the payroll tax cut extension this morning, 293-132 (91 Republicans and 41 Democrats opposed), then prepared to skip town for their week-long observance of Presidents' Day. The package lost support from some key Democratic members, including Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD), because it specifically targets federal workers who are key constituents in those members' districts in its spending cuts. Virginia Sen. Mark Warner is also expected to oppose the bill for that reason. Future federal employees will have to pay a significantly larger chunk of their paycheck into their pension funds.
The bill extends unemployment benefits through the end of 2012, but by the end of the year, it will reduce the number of weeks of unemployment eligibility to 63 weeks in states with moderate jobless rates and 73 weeks for those with the highest unemployment. The pay-fors now include those unpopular adjustments to the federal retiree pensions formula, requiring new hires to pay more into their pension plans, shielding current federal workers from the hike. They'll raise $15 billion from a spectrum auction of wireless bandwidth. The plan also includes $5 billion from a new health care fund created by the Affordable Care Act focused on prevention, and additional reimbursement cuts to some Medicare and Medicaid providers.
As of now, the bill's prospects in the Senate are a tiny bit murky, though it is expected to pass. None of the Senate Republicans on the conference committee —Jon Kyl (AZ), Mike Crapo (ID) and John Barrasso (WY)—signed onto the final agreement and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has yet to signal whether he supports it. Apparently, McConnell is feeling pissy because House Speaker John Boehner didn't consult with him about his decision to capitulate on paying for the tax cuts, and because Senate Republicans were left out of the party. Boehner disagrees, saying, "[From] everything that I’ve seen, they’ve been as involved in the process as anybody else. [...] There was an awful lot of conversation. As a matter of fact, if I recall correctly, there were two or three public meetings where they were all present. So for someone to say they weren’t involved really would surprise me.”
McConnell was vocal during the last payroll tax cut extension debacle in December, leaning on Boehner to buck his caucus and force through a temporary extension. McConnell seemed to recognize just how damaging the fight was to Republicans, so it doesn't seem likely that he'll actually block the bill. But it sure is fun to see the pissing match between these two GOP leaders continue.
9:18 AM PT: Boy, they can move fast when vacation is on the line. The Senate just passed the bill, 60-36. Among Republicans voting for it was Mitch McConnell. D.C. area Democrats including Ben Cardin, Barbara Mikulksi and Mark Warner voted against it.