The fate of the two-month Social Security tax break extension suddenly became uncertain Sunday as House Speaker John Boehner said he and most Republicans were opposed to the plan.
Boehner was reflecting the view of many House Republicans, who complained about the deal in a conference call hours after the Senate overwhelmingly approved the measure on Saturday.
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., reacted angrily. "Instead of threatening middle-class families with a thousand-dollar tax hike, Speaker Boehner should bring up the bipartisan compromise that (Republican Senate Leader Mitch) McConnell and I negotiated, and which passed the Senate with an overwhelming majority of Democratic and Republican votes," Reid said.
"I would hate to think that Speaker Boehner is refusing to act on this bipartisan compromise because he is afraid it will actually pass, but I cannot imagine any other reason why he would not bring it up for a vote."
"It's time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people," said White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., the ranking Democrat on the House Budget Committee, said: "This is the latest example of the tea-party Republicans sacrificing the good of the country on the altar of extreme ideology."
The $33 billion package approved Saturday would extend the current Social Security tax rate paid by employees through the end of February. The 2011 rate is 4.2 percent; it would revert to 6.2 percent if there is no extension.
The bill also would extend long-term unemployment benefits and continue current Medicare payment rates to physicians. Without any action, payments would be cut 27.4 percent next year.
It was thought that Republicans would support the temporary extension, particularly since they included a GOP provision to speed up consideration of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The Obama administration had sought to delay a decision on the pipeline, which environmental groups oppose, until 2013. The Senate voted 89 to 10 for the bill.
But Boehner, as well as other Republicans, made it clear that they didn't like a two-month fix.
"How can you do tax policy for two months?" he asked.
All the Senate bill does, he said, is trigger the same fight when Congress returns next month.
"I believe that two months is just kicking the can down the road. The American people are tired of that. Frankly, I'm tired of it," Boehner said.
Laena Fallon, spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., echoed that view: "Two months is too short," she said in a written statement. "The House opposes (the Senate) bill because — to put it simply — we owe the middle class, employers and doctors better than a two-month extension. Washington is already causing massive uncertainty to those struggling in the Obama economy. We can do better. "
House Republicans are expected to come up with an alternative plan. Last week, they approved a bill that would continue the breaks for a year. It gradually would reduce the maximum weeks of unemployment benefits from the current 99 weeks to 59 weeks, and pay for the plan partly with a freeze on federal pay.
If the House rejects the Senate's two-month plan, House and Senate negotiators would have to make a deal before Dec. 31.
Reid was not pleased. "When we met last week, Speaker Boehner requested that Senator McConnell and I work out a compromise. Neither side got everything they wanted, but we forged a middle ground that passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority," Reid said.
The House plans votes Monday night. Since Republicans hold 242 of the House's 435 seats, the Senate plan is unlikely to pass, although an alternative could be approved.
Getting a one-year plan has proven difficult, however, since Democrats want to pay for it with a surtax on income over $1 million, which Republicans tend to oppose.
Other Democrats were upset about the Keystone provision.
"This expedited process will bypass a thorough review of the project as well as an ongoing investigation of the review process by the State Department Inspector General," said Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.