D Block fate uncertain as House rejects Senate two-month tax cut
House votes to disapprove a Senate proposal to extend the payroll-tax cut by two months and seek a conference with the other chamber theoretically could restart negotiations regarding public-safety communications and 700 MHz D Block reallocation, but Senate leaders vowed they will not return to Capitol Hill this year.
“For the year, we’ve certainly seen a lot of progress, but it’s hard right now to see a path to the goal line before they come back next year,” said Sean Kirkendall, spokesman for the Public Safety Alliance. “Theoretically, they could go to conference at any time, but it’s hard if you don’t appoint conferees. The Senate has said they are not going to appoint conferees, and the House Democrats have said even they’re not going to appoint conferees.”
Today’s action sets the stage for a political showdown between the Republicans that control the House and the Democrats that control the Senate. Last week, the House passed a bill that would extend the payroll-tax cut for a year and addresses several other items, including D Block reallocation for public safety. On Saturday, the Senate voted overwhelmingly to amend the House bill by reducing the deal to a two-month agreement that stripped away the public-safety language.
Senators left Capitol Hill for the holidays after Saturday’s vote, believing the 89-10 bipartisan two-month compromise would be approved quickly by the House, because House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) reportedly agreed to the measure. But Boehner — following a conference in which Tea Party members reportedly expressed opposition to the Senate bill — said Sunday that the House would not pass the Senate’s shortened version of the payroll-tax legislation, noting that he never endorsed the Senate legislation.
House members did not consider the Senate bill today, but did vote to disapprove of the two-month legislation and called for the Senate to negotiate a year-long deal through a conference process before the end of the year. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) described the opposition in the House as “unconscionable” and said he would not call the Senate back in session.
“My House colleagues should be clear on what their vote means today,” Reid said in a prepared statement. “If Republicans vote down the bipartisan compromise negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders, and passed by 89 senators — including 39 Republicans — their intransigence will mean that in 10 days, 160 million middle-class Americans will see a tax increase, over 2 million Americans will begin losing their unemployment benefits, and millions of senior citizens on Medicare could find it harder to receive treatment from physicians.”
If the payroll-tax cut and unemployment benefits expire, Democrats seem intent on blaming Republicans for the problem, noting that the Senate compromise was made with blessing of the GOP leadership, according to Beltway leadership. Meanwhile, House Republicans appear to be hoping that the “must-pass” nature of the bill will force the Senate to come to the conference negotiating table.
If the payroll-tax cut somehow becomes the subject of a conference, D Block reallocation and funding for a could be part of the negotiations, because the overall spectrum language would provide much needed revenue to offset the cost of the provisions, Kirkendall said. However, Kirkendall said he doubts that matter will be subject to a conference, based on the current positions of Capitol Hill lawmakers.