House Poised To Reject Budget Deal

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Days after it seemed Congress had struck a budget, tax cut and unemployment deal that would get it through the holidays, it is clear that they did not. House Speaker John Boehner Monday must deal with a restive House GOP caucus that signaled over the weekend that it had no interest in going along with the Senate's two-month plan. NPR congressional correspondent David Welna joins Lynn Neary with the latest.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary. That game of political chicken is still playing out on Capitol Hill. Here's some of what's at stake: the payroll tax cut, which is about to expire, unemployment benefits that are also running out, and a fix to keep Medicare payments to doctors from plummeting on January 1.

The Democratic-led Senate overwhelmingly passed a deal on Saturday that would temporarily take care of these issues. It would last through February. But Republicans in control of the House have called its members back to challenge the Senate compromise. Joining us from the Capitol is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna. Welcome to the program, David.

David, why do House Republicans oppose the Senate bill?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well, you know, Lynn, House Republicans would like to scuttle the compromise that their GOP colleagues in the Senate voted for overwhelmingly two days ago. So they intend to hold a vote that would call for negotiations to begin with the Senate. House Speaker John Boehner, I think, has had to bow in all this to his rambunctious GOP caucus because he may have miscalculated its mood when he indicated late last week that the House could go along with a two-month extension, as is in the Senate bill, as long as it contained a key item House Republicans had been pushing for, namely a requirement for a decision to be made in the next 60 days on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline. That was in the Senate bill, but when Boehner talked with fellow Republicans over the weekend, they made it clear to him that they had no intention of voting for what the Senate had passed. So Boehner maintained today that the main problem with that bill is its duration.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We opposed the Senate bill because doing the two-month extension instead of a full year extension causes uncertainty for job creators.

WELNA: Democrats say Boehner is simply moving the goalposts since many House Republicans did not want any extension of the payroll tax cut benefits and unemployment insurance. The only reason some of them voted for the yearlong bill that the House passed last week was because of the sweeteners added to it; things such as reducing maximum unemployment benefits from 99 weeks to 59 weeks, or putting on hold new mercury air pollution standards and also using money from the new health care law to pay for the extensions. Those all got stripped out in the Senate's compromise, which may be another big reason House Republicans aren't going along with it.

NEARY: When is the House going to vote on the bill?

WELNA: The House is now expected to vote on the bill tomorrow. It would be a vote to reject the Senate-passed bill that has the two-month extension. And if that happens, the House would presumably then request a conference to hash out its differences with the Senate, which could take a long time. If the House is unable to reject the Senate, this would be a huge setback for House Speaker John Boehner whose leadership could be on the line as a result.

NEARY: Well, where do Senate Republicans stand in this debate? I mean, their leadership team voted for the compromise on Saturday.

WELNA: Well, there are several moderate Republican senators who've called on their House GOP colleagues to take up and pass the Senate deal. And on Saturday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, who negotiated this deal with Majority Leader Harry Reid, sounded as if he completely supported that bill. Here's McConnell shortly before he voted for that measure.

SENATOR MITCH MCCONNELL: Our side approached this debate conscious of something Democrats in Washington tend to forget these days and that is, in order to achieve something around here, you've got to compromise. And as the majority leader indicated, that is, in fact, what we have. What we've done here is craft a bill not designed to fail but designed to pass.

WELNA: But McConnell now seems to have reversed himself. He's siding with Boehner and suggesting the two chambers work out their differences in a conference committee, which could take a long time to get done.

NEARY: Is there any chance then that this fight will be resolved before these measures expire in 12 days?

WELNA: It's not looking very good right now. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has indicated he won't appoint any conferees to work out differences. And he said today he would only negotiate with the House if it approved the two-month extension that the Senate passed on Saturday. You know, I think Democrats feel they have the upper hand in this fight and the Republicans will take what could be a very big political hit if 160 million stopped getting the payroll tax break in January, and nearly 2 million people start losing unemployment benefits. I think Democrats see this as a big election year issue, no matter how it plays out.

NEARY: Thanks very much, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Lynn.

NEARY: NPR's David Welna at the Capitol.

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