UPDATE: Sen. Ben Cardin signed the conference report to allow the payroll tax deal and unemployment benefits extension to go to a vote.
In the end, the deal requires new hires to pay 2.3 percent of their salary to their pensions to pay for the tax cut. Cardin's vote was critical as the three Senate Republicans conferring on the deal said they would oppose it. Since a majority of Senate conferees was needed, and there were four Democrats on the seven-member panel, Cardin was the tie-breaker.
It's not often the President of the United States calls your home phone, so one could forgive the wife of Sen Ben Cardin, D-Md, for thinking it was some kind of hoax last night when an Administration official dialed up the couple's Baltimore home line.
"At first my wife didn't believe it was the president," Cardin laughed, as he recounted to a handful of reporters the presidential phone call. "No one has that number," the senator said of a second, rarely-used phone line.
The senator was actually still at work, Myrna Cardin had to tell her V.I.P. caller. Indeed, Cardin was burning the midnight oil, locked in high-stakes talks over extending the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance benefits. House-Senate negotiators had originally designed a revenue-raising measure that would have required all federal workers to contribute more to their pensions.
These being Cardin's constituents, the senator, along with Cong. Chris VanHollen, D-Md., both key negotiators in the payroll talks, decided to wage a fight to lessen the impact. In the end, the two won a critical concession -- only new hires to the federal workforce would be impacted.
It appeared to be enough to win the senator's vote, but a battle-weary Cardin, running on about three hours of sleep, made clear Thursday, "I want to see the details," adding, "I don't expect any surprises, but I want to see the final product."
A senior Senate Democratic leadership aide told Fox News that White House Director of Legislative Affairs Rob Nabors was monitoring the progress of talks Wednesday, and "it just became apparent that a call (from Obama to Cardin) was necessary."
The senator made clear to reporters Thursday that while he supports the changes made Wednesday night/Thursday morning to the payroll tax cut deal, he still feels "unemployment benefits should not be paid for" with budget cuts/revenue increases.
The senator hinted that something might be changed later in the year to lessen the impact on federal workers, but for now, the changes are in place and moving forward.
A vote on the payroll tax deal is expected by week's end.