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Democrats turn tables on GOP as Boehner relents on payroll-tax deal

House Speaker John Boehner agreed to let the Senate's payroll-tax deal come to the floor for a vote, where it is expected to pass Friday. It was a rare win in a tough year for Democrats.

By Staff writer / December 22, 2011

House Speaker John Boehner (R) of Ohio announces an agreement on the extension of the payroll tax holiday during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington Thursday.

Jonathan Ernst/REUTERS

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Washington

In a stunning reversal, House Speaker John Boehner late Thursday abandoned a bid to force Senate Democrats to the bargaining table to resolve an impasse over the expiring payroll tax cut – a strategy that had risked tax hike for some 160 million American workers.

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In the end, carrying on the fight was a losing proposition for a party that took back the House in 2011 on a pledge never to raise taxes. And – in a new development – Democrats learned to say, "No."

The deal marks a capitulation by the speaker, who appeared at the podium alone to announce the agreement, worked out with Senate majority leader Harry Reid (D) of Nevada and endorsed by President Obama.

It also marks a breakthrough for Senate Democrats and Mr. Obama, who said "no" from the start of this impasse – and stuck with it.

As a result, near empty chambers in the House and Senate on Friday will pass by unanimous consent a slightly modified version of a Senate bill that extends by two months the payroll-tax cut and other expiring measures, congressional leaders hope.

If the bill passes Friday, Obama will sign it before joining his family for vacation in Hawaii. If any member objects, the next step would be to call the full House or Senate back into session next week, when the measure is all but certain to pass. 

This agreement means that the payroll tax cut, worth about $40 on the average paycheck, will remain in effect through February. Federal jobless benefits up to 99 weeks will also continue, and a proposed 27.4 percent payment cut for physicians serving Medicare patients will not take place on Jan. 1.

For five days, House Republicans struggled for traction to get the Senate to the negotiating table to take up the House version of that bill, which extended expiring provisions for a full year, and the so-called “doc fix” by two years. But by midweek, they found themselves isolated and fighting alone.

In contrast with previous standoffs, this time the White House and Senate majority leader Harry Reid didn’t budge or even blink.

Democrats learned to say, 'no,' and it worked for them,” says Stan Collender, a longtime federal budget analyst now with Qorvis Communications in Washington.

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