Payroll Tax Holiday Extension Is In Jeopardy

Millions of Americans, who have benefited from a holiday in paying Social Security payroll taxes, cannot count on that being extended beyond the first of the year. House Speaker John Boehner said Sunday that the bipartisan deal worked out by the Senate to keep the tax cut going for another couple of months would not pass muster with House Republicans.

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LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Back in the U.S., there is still no counting on an extension of the payroll tax holiday beyond the first of the year. That was the shock delivered yesterday by House Speaker John Boehner. He said the deal worked out by Senate Democrats and Republicans to keep that tax cut going for another couple of months would not pass muster with House Republicans. The surprise move by Boehner threatens to upend what legislators thought they'd finally gotten done before the holidays.

Joining us now to talk about this as well as the rest of what's happening in politics is NPR's Cokie Roberts. Good morning, Cokie.

COKIE ROBERTS, BYLINE: Hi, Linda. How you doing?

WERTHEIMER: So - I'm doing good. So what happened with Mr. Boehner? The House had approved a spending measure to keep the government going and had had big support. The Senate also reached a bipartisan consensus, the payroll tax cut, extending unemployment insurance, and yesterday it fall apart.

ROBERTS: Well, the House Republicans don't like it, they don't like the fact that it's just a two month deal. The irony here is that the Democrats thought that they and the White House had somewhat gotten rolled on this deal because it includes wording that says that the president has to make a decision about that controversial Keystone pipeline within 60 days.

But the House Republicans didn't see it as the Democrats taking it on the chin and they made clear they weren't taking the deal. So now they have to come back tonight and figure out what they're going to do.

WERTHEIMER: Now, this is not the first time that politicians in Washington have thought they had a deal only to have it blown up by John Boehner saying that the caucus will not accept it. What is going on here? Does he - lost control of his caucus? Is he playing some kind of negotiating game?

ROBERTS: Well, he insists that there was no deal, that he did not give his proxy to the Republican leader in the Senate. But look, this is a very tough caucus, as you well know. The Tea Partiers came into Washington with no real legislative experience of give and take and they pretty much want to take without giving and they've been successful enough at it that they don't see much reason to change.

And they're not worried about their reelection. They're all in safe seats. So Boehner is there as something of a sensible soul trying to get things done. And he lived through the Gingrich years in the House and knows that the constant confrontation is in the long run not a winning strategy in terms of keeping the majority, so he tries to make a deal and he gets pushed back.

And then he goes public with the pushback and his members see the reaction to that and it gives him some leverage with his own members. But look, in the end these folks have been pretty successful getting more of what they want than anyone would have predicted with a Democratic Senate and a Democratic White House.

WERTHEIMER: Now, the two months is the stopping point? It does seem to me that GOP members would not like to hear every month or so that they're taking a thousand dollars out of people's pockets.

ROBERTS: True. And then of course in two months you'd be right in the middle of the presidential primary season and they don't want to hear about it then. And that is the basic - the sticking point. They seem to basically agree on how to pay for the payroll tax cut.

But now the House Republicans are hoping that by saying that the Senate has left town without doing the people's business, that it will work for them politically. Maybe, maybe not. But the bottom line is, Linda, as you know, something like this in the end does get done.

WERTHEIMER: Now, you were talking about John Boehner and his experience with Newt Gingrich, and we've been hearing a lot of criticism of Gingrich's speakership plus a lot of criticism about everything else. Is this catching on, do you think, with Republicans in places like Iowa?

ROBERTS: Seems to be raising serious doubts, that plus ads against Gingrich by his opponents, plus endorsements that are at least back-handed slaps at Gingrich when Romney is endorsed. And he's been talking about federal judges and doing all kinds of things that voters find intriguing, but not necessarily what they want to see in a president. And so in two weeks the voting begins. We'll see.

WERTHEIMER: Cokie Roberts, thanks very much.

ROBERTS: Mm-hmm.

WERTHEIMER: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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