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House, Senate Still At Odds on Payroll Tax/UI Extension

The House/Senate conference committee looking to reconcile legislation on a payroll tax cut extension, along with unemployment benefits and potentially a doc fix, met yesterday to go over the deal. And it didn’t turn out that well.

Meeting for the first time, members of a new bipartisan, House-Senate committee negotiating a final version of a yearlong payroll tax cut agreed that a deal had to be struck before the end of February, when a short-term extension that passed in December will expire […]

“People are struggling,” said Representative Greg Walden, Republican of Oregon and a member of the conference committee. “People are wondering what the hell is going on in Washington.”

But negotiators are far apart in how to cover the $160 billion it would cost to maintain the cut, extend expiring unemployment benefits and avoid deep cuts in fees to doctors treating Medicare patients.

They also differ on what other measures should be added to the legislation, which may be the last major bill that moves through Congress in an election year. Republicans said they wanted to include “job creation” measures, including one blocking environmental regulations for commercial boilers and another forcing the construction of an oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico, which the Obama administration has blocked.

I heard that the boiler rider was already dropped. And it’s hard to see how they could resurrect Keystone XL at this point. I would be shocked to see a millionaire’s surtax or anything of that nature in the final deal, too, but Democrats on the panel are banging that drum. The big point is that the pay-fors aren’t really coming together just yet, although there’s a chance that a cap on war funding will get pulled out to save the day.

But as I’ve said before, the conference committee is for show. In the final analysis, the leadership of House Republicans and Senate Democrats will sit down and make the deal. And there’s quite a bit of pressure on Republicans, after the debacle late last year, to get that done.

The clock is ticking, with only one month before the measures expire.

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David Dayen

David Dayen

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