Speaking on the Senate floor Tuesday, Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., downplayed a potential GOP mutiny over the payroll tax cut and urged Senate Democrats to let conferees negotiating the extension to finish their work.
Last year, Democrats and Republican were engaged in a hot debate over extending a cut in Social Security payroll taxes for 160 million American workers. Both parties said they favored the middle-class tax cuts, but instead of a year-long deal lawmakers were only able to compromise on a short-term agreement that is set to expire February 29.
McConnell says Republicans strongly support extending the holiday for the rest of the year, but the GOP rejects a tax hike on wealthier Americans as a way to pay for the relief.
“When a tax hike that’s been rejected repeatedly by members of both parties over the past year is the opening bid in a negotiation, I think it’s safe to say that Democrats are more interested in scoring political points than in scoring a tax cut that millions of middle-class Americans are counting on,” he says. “When the Democratic Majority Leader (Harry Reid) of the Senate suddenly drops a proposal of his own to extend this tax cut even as a conference committee is in the midst of negotiating a bipartisan solution that everybody can support, I think it’s pretty obvious that the problem isn’t with Republicans.”
Last year, Republicans took a hit in the polls over the debate and reports of internal divisions amongst GOP lawmakers over what strategy to take this time are boiling over into the public.
Other Republicans are pining for a different approach. Many say reforming parts of the Tax Code would be a more palatable policy choice. Georgia Rep. Paul Broun said he’s had “partial” conversations with leadership about “better ways to go” than the payroll tax holiday.
“This payroll tax holiday is just a gimmick to try to get [Obama] reelected,” he said in an interview. “This is bad policy.”
But Congress, hoping to seize a rare instance of legislative achievement, needs to hitch a number of other pet ideas to the payroll tax extension. Conference committee members spent much of their time last week debating a host of provisions peripheral to the tax cut.
The 20-member conference is having ongoing discussions this week.