Add to stalemate over payroll tax the threat of government shutdown
Congress continues to skirmish over the best way to extend unemployment benefits and the payroll tax cut. A separate bill to fund the federal government for the rest of fiscal 2012 is caught in the crossfire.
The Republican-led House on Tuesday approved the bill it likes for extending the payroll tax cut, set to expire at year's end, and unemployment benefits. The Democratic-led Senate already has denounced the House bill as a nonstarter. Can yet another threat of a government shutdown be far behind?Skip to next paragraph
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As Republican and Democratic lawmakers tangle over how to pay the costs of extending tax and jobless benefits, with neither side advancing, a bill to fund government for the remainder of the fiscal year is caught in the stalemate. A stop-gap measure to cover the rest of fiscal 2012 spending expires Friday, and a new omnibus measure to keep government running after that date is stuck in the Senate at the urging, Republicans say, of the White House.
The payroll tax measure, which would affect some 160 million workers, is what's gumming up the works.
The $119 billion package that just passed the House would extend the Social Security payroll tax for another year at its current level, 4.2 percent. (Without action by Congress, the rate would revert to its former 6.2 percent.) It also would avert a mandated cut to payments to physicians serving Medicare patients, the so-called “doc fix,” for two years. In addition, it addresses the problem of long-term unemployment, but the measure would gradually phase down maximum coverage from 99 weeks now to 59 weeks after Jan. 1.
But the measure passed on a near party-line vote, 234 to 193, and contains provisions that Democrats deem to be “poison pills.” One of those would force an early decision on construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from the oil sands of Canada to refineries in Texas. Another would delay new federal rules on reducing air pollution from industrial burners.
Hard-ball politics in the waning days of a congressional session are usual, as must-pass issues are held hostage to wanna-pass issues, until the clock runs out. But for a Congress that has already faced the brink of a first-ever default on the US national debt, plus near-shutdowns over fiscal 2011 spending, brinksmanship has settled into habit.