Payroll tax cut bill stalled in the Senate

Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky walks to the floor as the Senate prepares to vote on a short-term funding measure that includes dollars for disaster relief without an offsetting spending cut elsewhere, as demanded by the GOP-controlled House, on Capitol Hill in Washington, Monday, Sept. 26 2011. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite
Mitch McConnell
AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite

The Democratic-led Senate is sure to reject a House-passed, Republican bill to extend the payroll tax cut, and Senate leaders say they are eager to get the vote over with.

However, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell blocked a quick vote on the House GOP bill Wednesday morning, arguing the Senate has more pressing priorities to deal with first -- namely, keeping the government from shutting down.

"The most immediate concern at this point is... the federal funding expiring two days from now," McConnell said on the Senate floor today. "Let's deal first with the deadline that happens this Friday, two days from now. Fund the government through the rest of the fiscal year, and then turn immediately to the payroll tax extension that expires later in January."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he wants to vote first on the payroll tax cut bill, which the House passed on Tuseday, to prove that Republicans have to compromise more on the issue. The measure would extend the payroll tax cut for 160 million workers for another year. It would also extend long-term unemployment benefits but with reforms that Democrats have protested, such as eventually shortening the number of weeks for which people can receive the benefits. Democrats also oppose a number of other parts of the bill, including a provision that would force a quick decision on a controversial oil pipeline.

The measure will surely fail in the Senate, and even if it passed, President Obama promised to veto it. Democrats have proposed their own version of the bill to extend the payroll tax cut, but Republicans oppose its plan to pay for it with higher taxes on people making more than $1 million a year.

"Republican leaders have spent weeks drumming up support for legislation they knew was dead on arrival in the senate," Reid said on the Senate floor today with respect to the House bill. "Now it's time to get this vote over with so real negotiations can begin to prevent a tax increase on 160 million middle-class Americans."

McConnell urged the Senate to pass the House bill, which he called "job-creating and job-saving." Still, he said the more pressing matter was the pending $1 trillion-plus budget bill to keep the government running. The federal government could shut down most of its operations if a new budget bill isn't passed by Friday.

Democrats want to work on the payroll tax cut extension first, to maximize their leverage in the negotiations. Reid suggested today that McConnell was stalling the vote "because Republican senators are kind of embarrassed or ashamed of what's in that bill."

Reid added that if the Senate doesn't complete work on the $1 trillion-plus spending bill by Friday, it can pass a short-term spending bill as it has many times before.

The White House, meanwhile, is emailing its supporters a video to drum up support for its version of the payroll tax cut extension.