Resolution For Payroll Tax Cut Extension May Be Near

There's been a breakthrough on Capitol Hill over the standoff on the payroll tax cut extension. Lynn Neary talks to NPR's David Welna for more.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

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

LYNN NEARY, HOST:

And I'm Lynn Neary. There's been a breakthrough on Capitol Hill this evening. The partisan standoff over extending soon-to-expire payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits appears headed toward resolution. House Speaker John Boehner backed down from his insistence on nothing but a yearlong extension, and Boehner announced that he will try to pass a two-month long measure possibly as soon as tomorrow. Joining me now to sort out what's happened is NPR congressional correspondent David Welna.

So David, what did happen there on Capitol Hill?

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: Well Lynn, Speaker of the House John Boehner essentially blinked. He went from tacitly supporting a two-month extension of the expiring provisions last week, to turn against such a two-month extension after his fellow House Republicans revolted during a conference call over the weekend that followed the Senate's approval of that extension, to reversing himself once again today and endorsing a two-month extension. Boehner announced the decision to his fellow Republicans in another conference call late this afternoon, but this time it was a take it or take it proposition; no one was allowed to talk back to the speaker. Some of those members complained afterward that they'd been hung out to dry, but Boehner dismissed such talk a news conference after the call.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: We have fought the fight, the good fight. But, you know, I talked to enough members over the last 24 hours who believe that, hey, listen, we don't like this two-month extension. We don't like this reporting problem in the Senate bill, and if you can get this fixed, why not do the right thing for the American people, even though it's not exactly what we want.

WELNA: The reporting problem that Boehner referred to was a contention by House Republicans that a two-month extension would wreak havoc with payroll accounting systems, so putting in this fix, as Boehner called it, is a kind of a face-saver for House Reps. They can say they approved the Senate bill and not that they simply took what the Senate sent over to them.

NEARY: But in the end, what was it that made Boehner blink?

WELNA: I think that House Republicans clearly were courting political disaster if they insisted on their stance and payroll tax cut actually expired on January 1. There was a growing chorus of conservatives from across the country and especially from the U.S. Senate - 39 Senate Republicans after all voted for the two-month extension – urging the House to reverse its stance. And it put, you know, it put the House Republicans really at odds with their Senate counterparts and it was a very uncomfortable situation, and also, President Obama seemed to be reaping a big political windfall from this. And I think Republicans were getting very uneasy about how the tide was turning against them.

NEARY: But is this really a done deal?

WELNA: Well, it's a done deal if every member of the House and every member of the Senate goes along with it. You need a unanimous consent in both chambers for this to be passed without Congress actually reconvening here. And we have yet to see if that's really going to happen. New York Democratic Senator Charles Schumer told CNN today that he hoped that Congress has turned a page, but he was a little bit tentative about whether that actually will happen.

SENATOR CHARLES SCHUMER: And hopefully, those extreme – the extreme wing in the House, who initially was against any payroll tax cut, then was only for one if it was so loaded up with things that were unpalatable to the rest of us that we were never one, if they don't run the show we can get this done.

NEARY: But this agreement, David, only lasts two months, and then what happens after that?

WELNA: Well, and then after that, they would try to extend this for a full year and conferees have been appointed as part of this deal to do so. But the real test will be whether House Republicans will drop the very contentious provisions they insisted on this time. Democrats hope that they may have learned something from this episode and won't be insistent next time.

NEARY: Thanks, David.

WELNA: You're welcome, Lynn.

NEARY: That's NPR's David Welna on Capitol Hill.

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