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Schumer: House Vote on Payroll Tax Cut is a Test of GOP Leadership

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Dec. 16, 2011: House Speaker John Boehner of Ohio, flanked by Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, left, and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., briefs reporters on Capitol Hill after lawmakers from both political parties came together on an 11th-hour deal to keep the government from shutting down. (AP)

Failure of the House to approve Senate-passed legislation on a payroll tax cut extension will rest on House Speaker John Boehner's shoulders, a top Democrat said Sunday, offering the latest check in the seemingly never-ending game of brinksmanship on Capitol Hill.

House Republicans insist on changes to the Senate measure, which passed Saturday on an 89-10 vote. The legislation extends this year's Social Security tax cut -- from 6.2 percent of salaries to 4.2 percent -- for an additional two months. 

House leaders say they will vote Monday either to make amendments to extend the cut for a year. Otherwise, they will demand a conference by year-end to prevent more "kicking the can down the road."

"The American people are tired of that. I think, frankly, I'm tired of it. On the House side, we've seen this kind of action before coming out of the Senate. It's time to just stop, do our work, resolve the differences and extend this for one year," Boehner said.

But Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said Boehner has no room to complain after agreeing last week to abide by a deal worked out between Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. House Republicans have said they played no role in last week's talks between the two Senate leaders

"Last week, Speaker Boehner sat in a meeting with Leader Reid and Leader McConnell and he gave Leader McConnell his proxy to negotiate a bipartisan compromise. ... The Senate came to a deal, and now Speaker Boehner must keep his word," Schumer said in a statement release Sunday.

Schumer said failure to pass the legislation could cost Republicans their majority in the House, "and they will deserve it."

"This is a test of whether the House Republicans are fit to govern, and it is a make-or-break moment for John Boehner's speakership," Schumer added. 

"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," Reid said in a separate statement. 

Aside from the tax cut extension, the Senate bill renews 99 weeks of unemployment benefits and creates a "doctor fix" to prevent physicians from getting a 27 percent pay cut from Medicare at the start of the year. The $33 billion legislation also requires President Obama to approve the proposed 1,700-mile Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to Texas within 60 days or issue a finding that it's not in U.S. national interest.

In a conference call among House Republicans late Saturday, many complained that the $33 billion Senate bill lacked serious spending cuts. 

The House version of the legislation -- priced at more than $180 billion -- keeps the Social Security tax at 4.2 percent, extends unemployment benefits for 79 weeks -- rather than 99, and requires illegal drug testing and high school dropouts to get an equivalent to a GED. It also provides for the "doctor fix."

In addition, the House legislation blocks an Environmental Protection Agency rule curbing pollution from industrial boilers and extends tax break for businesses buying equipment for 2012.

Differences also lie in how to pay for the bill. The House bill wants to extend the current pay freeze on civilian federal workers for another year and requires them to contribute more toward their pensions; raises fee Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac charge for insuring mortgages; raises Medicare premiums paid by higher-income elderly; cuts some health care overhaul law programs; sells part of broadcast spectrum; prevents illegal immigrant parents from collecting child tax credit refund checks; bars food stamps, unemployment benefits for the wealthy.

The Senate bill would be paid for with a monthly fee on households that get mortgages from Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac -- beginning Jan. 1.

Boehner said the president agrees with 90 percent of the House's methods for deficit reduction. 

"We did everything the president asked for. We added a couple of policies that we believe would help create jobs in America, things like the Keystone Pipeline, pulling back some regulations on boilers," Boehner, R-Ohio, told NBC's "Meet the Press." 

"But we paid for this, offset it, with reasonable reductions in spending. ... We had a reasonable, responsible bill that we sent over to the Senate. ... So we really do believe it's time for the Senate to work with the House to complete our business for the year," he said.

"I believe the president agrees that the Senate bill leaves much work unfinished. I understand that Senate Democratic leaders would love to start their vacation today, but the American people are tired of seeing Congress do the bare minimum and then punt," added a Boehner spokesman.

Speaking to that very claim, White House Communications Director Dan Pfeiffer said the president does find it "inexcusable to do anything less than extend this tax cut for the entire year, and Congress must work on a one year deal." But he said, a two-month extension will do for now to avoid hitting the Jan. 1 deadline. 

Boehner "himself just yesterday called it a 'good deal' and a 'victory,'" Pfeiffer added "It's time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi accused Boehner of folding to the Tea Party wing of the GOP whose "extremism and opposition to the middle class" demands a tax increase.

"The only thing standing in the way of a middle class tax cut is Tea Party Republicans in the House with their latest made-up crisis just days before Christmas," Pelosi said.

"We are witnessing a pattern of Speaker Boehner walking away from bipartisan compromises to kowtow to his extreme Tea Party wing of his caucus," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., chairman of the Democratic Caucus. "This is the latest example of the Tea Party Republicans sacrificing the good of the country on the alter of extreme ideology." 

But Republican Rep. Candice Miller of Michigan, said the short-term extension only ensures "more uncertainty."

"How irresponsible for the U.S. Senate to pass only a two-month extension and then adjourn, essentially saying since they want to go home for Christmas the U.S. House must either take it or leave it?" she asked.