Congress Agrees On Payroll Tax Extension

Congressional negotiators have finally finished the details on a deal to extend the payroll tax holiday through the end of the year. A final vote may take place Friday or Saturday.

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It's all over now except for the voting. Both Democratic and Republican lawmakers put their signatures on a compromise this afternoon at the Capitol. Assuming it is enacted, the deal will prolong a payroll tax cut benefitting 160 million workers through the end of the year. As we heard earlier from Julie Rovner, it will also head off a steep pay cut for Medicare providers and keep extended unemployment benefits going. All three measures would otherwise expire this month.

NPR's David Welna reports that the deal is seen as a big win for President Obama and it has left some Republicans unhappy.

DAVID WELNA, BYLINE: As Republican lawmakers leaned over a table alongside Democrats and signed the deal they'd hammered out, a rare moment of bipartisan fellowship broke out.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Working together.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Working together.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It works.

WELNA: The prevailing sentiment seemed to be relief. This deal may spare Congress, and in particular its Republican members, even more scorn from a voting public exasperated by partisan antics and rigid ideology.

Key to the deal was House Republicans willingness to drop their demand that the $100-billion cost of the payroll tax holiday be offset by other spending cuts.

Democratic Senator Max Baucus is the Finance Committee chairman who pushed for that outcome.

SENATOR MAX BAUCUS: It did help. It helped because we had otherwise maybe $100 billion of spending cuts and/or revenue raisers. And that's very difficult to accomplish in this political climate.

WELNA: Some Republican negotiators seem resigned to that outcome. Kevin Brady is a Texas congressman.

REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN BRADY: I personally hope we can convince the American public that the payroll tax holiday, because it diverted dollars from Social Security, should be filled. But clearly, I think others prevailed in the other argument there.

WELNA: But three Senate Republicans who were also negotiators refused to sign the deal. Though House Speaker John Boehner called it a fair agreement, he cast it as a product of President Obama's failures.

REPRESENTATIVE JOHN BOEHNER: This is an economic relief package because the president's policies have not only failed they've actually made the economy worse.

WELNA: It's still not clear how soon the House will vote on the deal, but minority leader Nancy Pelosi says Democrats will support it.

REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI: I don't see a scenario where our members will vote against it.

WELNA: But many House and Senate Republicans may not. They're unhappy about the $100 billion the deal adds to the deficit. So is West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin, who spoke today on the Senate floor.

SENATOR JOE MANCHIN: Now, I know that going back home and saying we voted for a tax cuts is popular. Everybody wants to be popular in this arena. But this is not a tax cut. This is a Social Security cut.

WELNA: Still, passage of the deal is expected in both the House and Senate. It could be the last major piece of legislation Congress gets done before the elections. President Obama has been calling for this package for weeks. He says he'll sign it as soon as it reaches his desk.

David Welna, NPR News, the Capitol.

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