Republican congressmen were confident of victory on Tuesday in a political battle that they believe will give them credit for keeping payroll tax cuts in place.
By linking the $180 million in cuts to the construction of a controversial oil pipeline, the GOP was trying to force House Democrats into a position where they would vote against giving the average family $1,000 more in their wallets next year.
Even before debate on the bill started, majority whip Kevin McCarthy was convinced he had the votes to push the bill on to the Democratic-controlled Senate where it has little chance of succeeding due to the environmental worries raised by the Keystone XL pipeline.
“It will be a bipartisan vote, but if it has to be Republicans only, we’ll get it off the floor,” the California congressman told the Washington Post’s 2Chambers blog.
House Leader, Rep. Eric Cantor, R.Va., was equally enthusiastic. “You can’t be for the middle class,” while opposing the idea of tax cuts for millions of workers, he said.
“We can't wait," Cantor added. "That's why we are putting forward this bill to make sure that we are there for the middle class of this country."
President Barack Obama has been pushing for the tax cuts but wants a decision on allowing the 1,700-mile pipeline from Canada to Texas to be delayed until after next November’s election. By linking the two, Republicans have forced him and Senate leader Harry Reid on the defensive.
Reid called the addition of the pipeline to the bill “ideological candy,” claiming Republicans were catering to the right wing of their party.
The bill before the House would extend not only the payroll tax cuts but would also prevent extra benefits for the long-term unemployment from expiring on Jan.1, while, at the same time gradually reducing coverage from the current 99 weeks down to 59. It would also prevent a 27 percent cut in Medicare payments to doctors and replace it with a 1 percent raise for each of the next two years.
It also insists that the administration would have to approve a permit for the Keystone pipeline, which is routed through environmentally sensitive land in Nebraska, within 60 days.
The Republican plan would pay for the tax cuts by extending a pay freeze on government workers for another year, rasing fees that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac chare to back mortgages, selling off part of the broadcast spectrum and charging better-off seniors more for Medicare premiums.
Many Republicans oppose the payroll tax cut plan. Rep. Jeff Flake, of Arizona, who has led the opposition, told the Post that he and several other members of his party would oppose the bill, but he still expected it would get enough Republican support to pass.
Another Arizona member, Rep. Trent Franks, also had concerns but said the positives of the pipeline plan and changes to unemployment benefits outweighed his opposition. “On the whole, there's a lot more ice cream than there is dirt" in the bill, Franks told Fox News.
Another Republican, Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, of Nebraska, while refusing to disclose which way he would vote, said he found it “shocking” that the media had not explored how repeated payroll tax cuts are “undermining” the social security fund.
At least one oil-state Democrat, Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma pledged his support for the measure before the debate began.
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