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Payroll Tax Cut Deal Could Get Vote in Both Chambers Today

The House has released the conference report for the payroll tax cut agreement. It’s pretty much what we heard last night. The plan is for both the House and Senate to pass the conference report today, so that both chambers can go out on recess next week. This violates the House rule of having 72 hours to publicly display legislation before a vote, but oh well. They’re definitely holding the vote. The Senate has a couple other things in the queue (the surface transportation bill and a judicial nomination), so they “hope” to get to the conference report today. They could also take it up quickly on Saturday morning.

There are going to be defections on both sides, but my prediction would be passage for the legislation, which costs $141 billion and is offset with around $48 billion.

If we had 72 hours, we could take a look at the elements of the bill more closely. We could look at the cuts to weeks of unemployment. We could look at this allowance for state drug testing for unemployment beneficiaries, which Democrats insist would not impact all that many people (and I actually believe them, the study that 84% of all jobs require a drug test sounds extremely wrong). We could look at the auctioning off of public airwaves as a revenue gainer:

The need for revenue to partly cover the extension of the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits has pushed Congress to embrace a generational shift in the country’s media landscape: the auction of public airwaves now used for television broadcasts to create more wireless Internet systems.

The measure would be a rare instance of the government compensating private companies with the proceeds from an auction of public property — broadcast licenses — once given free.

The auctions, which are projected to raise more than $25 billion, would also further the Obama administration’s broadband expansion plans and create a nationwide communications network for emergency workers that would allow police, fire and other responders from different departments and jurisdictions to talk to each other directly.

I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, just that it could require a bit more study. The rules for the spectrum auctions are pretty byzantine.

We could also take a look at the fact that new federal workers will pay much of the price for this bill. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland, one of the conferees, said he was promised that this would be the last time federal employees would have to sacrifice. I’m a bit dubious of that.

Anyway, some more time would be nice. But Congress wants to get on with its recess.

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David Dayen

David Dayen