WASHINGTON — President Obama reached out yesterday in telephone calls to House Speaker John A. Boehner and Senate majority leader Harry Reid of Nevada in an effort to find a resolution to the nasty battle over the expiring payroll tax holiday.
According to a White House report, Obama “urged the speaker to take up the bipartisan compromise passed in the Senate with overwhelming Democratic and Republican support that would prevent 160 million working Americans from being hit with a holiday tax hike on January 1st.’’
After the White House disclosed the call to Boehner, the speaker’s office provided its own rendition of the conversation, saying that Boehner reminded the president the House has passed the only yearlong extension. That measure has been rejected by the Senate. He also reportedly encouraged the president to prod Reid into appointing senators to negotiate a final bill with the House.
“Let’s get this done today,’’ the speaker told the president, according to the account from his office.
The call from the White House came after House Republicans rejected bipartisan legislation on Tuesday that overwhelmingly passed the Senate on Saturday. The $33 billion package of bills would keep the Social Security tax paid by most workers at 4.2 percent rather than 6.2 percent, extend unemployment pay for those soon to lose their benefits, and avoid reductions in Medicare payments to doctors. The measure would be effective through February.
House Republicans have balked, arguing such benefits should be extended for a full year and refusing the compromise, even though the Senate has adjourned. Democrats preferred a yearlong package as well, but the two parties could not agree on how to pay for it, leading to the two-month approach to allow time to work out the dispute.
Boehner appointed a group of Republicans to form a conference committee to negotiate a settlement; Democrats in both chambers said they would not appoint conferees.
Jay Carney, the White House spokesman, called the situation fluid and said House Republicans should take the Senate bill as “an avenue out of this blind alley, if you will, that they’ve driven themselves into.’’
Carney urged House Republicans to accept the two-month extension, which would clear the way for talks on a yearlong plan.