WASHINGTON – Under pressure to avoid a prolonged political showdown with Democrats, House Speaker John Boehner agreed today to a deal that would extend jobless benefits to the long-term unemployed and prevent taxes from rising for 160 million working Americans.
Boehner announced today that he and the Senate’s Democratic leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, had reached accord on a plan that includes a two-month extension of the programs, a stop-gap measure that had garnered the support of 39 Republican senators when it was approved last weekend by the upper chamber, 89-10.
In a minor concession to the Republicans, Reid agreed to appoint members of a conference committee to hash out differences over plans to extend the tax cut for a full year,
“The Senate will join the House in immediately appointing conferees, with instructions to reach agreement in the weeks ahead on a full-year payroll tax extension.” Boehner said in a statement.
In addition to the tax break and allowing the long-term unemployed to continue receiving benefits, today’s agreement also protects doctors from a 27 percent decrease in Medicare reimbursement rates.
Reid noted that both sides continue to have their differences but said he was “grateful that the voices of reason have prevailed.”
Boehner’s retreat from a potentially damaging battle was welcomed by some members of his own party, who feared that the speaker’s stand could alienate voters in an election year when pocketbook issues loom large. The payroll tax holiday translates to about $1,000 for the average family annually, and would have vanished Jan. 1 without House consent to extend the program.
“I’m glad that cooler heads have prevailed and the House will pass a bill to protect working American families,’' said Senator Scott Brown, the Bay State’s Republican senator who upbraided House Republicans earlier this week for the holding up the legislation. “We now have more work to do to ensure payroll tax relief is enacted for a full year and I am hopeful that both sides will continue to work together to do what is right.”
At times, it seemed uncertain how much control Boehner had over his rank and file. When the Senate overwhelmingly approved its bill, it was assumed that the House would follow suit. But a revolt among some conservatives, who said they would rather renegotiate a full-year extension and pressure Democrats to accept their manner of paying for the tax cut, reportedly prompted Boehner to change course.
But the speaker retreated today after days of mounting pressure from his own party, particularly among Republican senators who had voted in favor of compromising with Senate Democrats.
The GOP’s top Republican in the Senate, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, broke his public silence today to urge Boehner to accept a compromise.
“House Republicans sensibly want greater certainty about the duration of these provisions, while Senate Democrats want more time to negotiate the terms. These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both,” McConnell said.
Democrats took delight at the GOP’s about face.
“With visions of 2012 voters dancing in their heads, House Republicans have finally come to their senses,” said Representative Edward Markey, a Malden Democrat.
“House Republicans saw what the world would like in 2013 if they raised taxes on 160 million Americans: a world with far fewer Republicans in Congress.”
President Obama applauded today’s agreement.
“This is good news, just in time for the holidays,” the president said. “This is the right thing to do to strengthen our families, grow our economy, and create new jobs.”
Obama also urged Congress to continue working on an agreement that would extend the tax cuts and unemployment insurance through the entire year.
Bobby Caina Calvan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter @GlobeCalvan.