U.S. congressional leaders are “very close” to endorsing a plan to extend a payroll tax cut benefiting 160 million American workers through the end of 2012, said the chief House Republican negotiator.
“We’re very close, but it isn’t final,” Ways and Means Chairman Dave Camp of Michigan said this evening in an interview, adding that “there will be conversations tonight” aimed at completing the deal. “Whenever it’s completed, we’ll sign off,” he said.
Entering a meeting of House Republicans this evening at which the plan was discussed, Camp told reporters that “a structure and a framework” of an agreement to continue the payroll tax cut was in place.
Florida Republican Tom Rooney said to reporters that Camp told Republicans during the meeting that there was a “tentative” deal.
“The mood is to get it off the table,” said Florida Republican Dennis Ross, a freshman, as he left the meeting.
The potential agreement would include 10 months of expanded unemployment benefits, said a Democratic aide familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Representative Kevin Brady, a Texas Republican on the House-Senate panel negotiating a payroll tax cut extension, said the plan also would avert a 27 percent cut in doctors’ Medicare reimbursements through the rest of this year.
The payroll tax cut extension wouldn’t be financed by spending cuts, while the expanded jobless benefits and Medicare payments would be covered by revisions elsewhere, according to the Democratic aide.
House Majority Leader Eric Cantor said the agreement would move to the House floor “as quickly as possible.” The timing depends on when members of the conference committee sign the report and when it is filed. “This is not my preferred way of doing this,” the Virginia Republican said. Both chambers of Congress are scheduled to be out of session for a one-week recess, starting Feb. 18.
Under the plan, the Democratic aide said maximum unemployment benefits to workers in states with the highest jobless rates would be reduced from the current 99 weeks.
The agreement wouldn’t include a Republican proposal that states be allowed to drug-test recipients of unemployment benefits or require those who lack a high school diploma to work toward a general equivalency degree, the aide said.
Republican Representative Bill Flores of Texas said the unemployment extension would be offset in part through requiring higher-paid federal workers to make larger contributions to their pensions.
The deal would include a voluntary worker training program modeled after one in Georgia that President Barack Obama cited in a jobs speech, the aide said.
One of the Democratic negotiators, Representative Sander Levin of Michigan, said he is reviewing the “details” of the unemployment compensation portion of the tentative deal and “also the pay-fors” to make sure that they are acceptable. He added that those details “are very important.”
Both chambers may act on the proposal this week if House Republicans sign off, said a second Democratic aide, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Republican Jason Chaffetz of Utah said he probably would vote against the proposal because of his concerns about the budget deficit. “People, they’re willing to listen, hear it out,” he said.