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Reid Has No Plans to Appoint Conferees on Payroll Tax/UI Legislation

The House has begun voting on a series of Parliamentary measures on the payroll tax deal, where they will try to reject the deal by voting Yes on a conference committee to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the bill. Harry Reid reiterated today that he has no interest in appointing conferees:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not appoint conferees, his office stressed again to The Huffington Post on Tuesday morning.

“[There will be] no negotiations until Boehner follows through and passes the compromise that Senators Reid and McConnell negotiated at his request, and which received 90 percent support in the Senate,” said a Senate Democratic leadership aide. “It’s shameful that he won’t even give it an up or down vote. Hopefully fellow Republicans can prevail upon their wayward colleagues in the House.”

Asked specifically if that mean Reid wouldn’t appoint conferees, the aide said Reid would not.

The Republican argument will be that they’re just following regular order, and that the Senate should comply or risk letting critical measures for the economy expire. To believe this you have to ignore Republican flaunting of regular order all year. They have refused to appoint conferees to an FAA Authorization bill for several months, to use just one example. They have ping-ponged bills back and forth between the chambers rather than reconcile them. In fact, the year-end appropriations bills went through first conference committees of the entire year.

In addition, this is a deal that has been subject to negotiation for the last three months. The reason that the Senate settled on a two-month extension is because the two sides couldn’t find agreement on anything else. The “Let’s just negotiate a compromise” argument neglects the fact that everyone’s been trying to do just that for months, and it hasn’t worked.

As to the argument that a two-month extension would place a burden on payroll software companies,” I don’t know how keeping things the same places a burden on them. In this case, even if no follow-on agreement comes after the two months, one change is made two months from now. House Republicans are risking an immediate change, followed potentially by a retroactive fix in January after people get angered by their first payroll checks being light. In what world is that an improvement?

Republicans are trying to make a policy argument about not doing short-term tax policy, and Democrats are standing behind a backroom deal and the reneging on an agreement. But just leaving it there strips the issue from all the context of how Congress has conducted itself this year. And people have that context in their heads; it’s why Congress has the lowest approval ratings in its history.

For their part, John Boehner’s office wants the President to intervene. “Once the House has acted, it will be up to the President to convince Sen. Reid to appoint conferees,” said Boehner spokesman Michael Steel. That could be how this resolves itself, with the Administration making a decision one way or the other.

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David Dayen

David Dayen