Breaking: House passes Senate payroll-tax holiday extension on unanimous consent

posted at 10:43 am on December 23, 2011 by Ed Morrissey

House Republicans managed to end their week-long facepalm moment not with a bang, or even a whimper.  Speaker John Boehner passed the Senate 60-day payroll-tax holiday extension by unanimous consent after a face-saving deal was reached yesterday:

The House on Friday morning approved a bill extending the payroll tax holiday and unemployment insurance for two months, and also prevents a planned cut to reimbursements for Medicare physicians.

Rep. Jo Ann Emerson (R-Mo.) asked for unanimous consent, which was declared approved by House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). The bill is H.R. 3765.

After having to front a public-relations disaster courtesy of a rebellion in his ranks, Boehner re-asserted control rather forcefully in the end.  Any member of the GOP caucus could have forced a roll-call vote on the Senate bill, but in the end none did.  Perhaps the realization that they had handed Barack Obama a golden opportunity to paint Republicans as opposing middle-class tax cuts, no matter what the reality of the convoluted opposition to the bipartisan Senate compromise might be, kept them silent on the floor this morning.

Or perhaps they finally recognized that Senate Republicans had actually negotiated a pretty good deal in the end, and left room for even more gains in the next 60 days:

Optics aside, the bill in many ways represents a policy victory for Republicans, as it does not pay for the payroll tax extension through higher taxes, as Democrats had first proposed. It also includes language that requires the Obama administration to make a decision on the Keystone oil sands pipeline extension within 60 days, something President Obama initially said he would veto.

The bill also gives a nod to Republican concerns that a two-month payroll tax extension would create a new accounting burden for companies. Republicans said they were worried that a two-month extension would complicate the effort of employers to implement the tax holiday with their employees.

Both Boehner and Reid announced Democratic conferees that will negotiate a final one-year extension after the first of the year, although the Republicans have yet to announce theirs.  They come from the committees most involved in tax and spending policy in both chambers, with no real surprises.  Hopefully, the holidays and the Iowa caucuses will soon make this week a dim memory for most Americans, but you can bet the Democrats will do their best to remind voters of this all during 2012.

Update: A couple of commenters say that the conference committee could reverse the Keystone language, but that would have to get Republican support; the conferees know that the House won’t pass a bill without it.  Besides, Senate Democrats voted overwhelming for the bill that included that language, even after Obama threatened to veto the bill if it survived in final form; they couldn’t muster enough votes to filibuster the amendment that added it.  There’s very little risk that the conference committee will reverse that language, and the 60-day limit means that Obama has to make the Keystone decision by the time the extension expires.

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