House Speaker John Boehner and House Majority Leader Eric Cantor sit at… (Jim Lo Scalzo / EPA )
House Speaker John Boehner and his team of GOP negotiators gathered around a conference table in the Capitol on Wednesday to show they were hard at work -- although they have no one to negotiate with, not even Senate Republicans.
"It would be helpful if members of the Senate, both parties, were here to sit down and resolve these differences as quickly as possible,"Boehner said, as he sat looking at empty chairs and a throng of cameras on the other side of the table.
The Senate left town this weekend, and most of House has done the same. What’s left is a stalemate over extending a tax break for American workers before it expires at the end of the year.
To recap: President Obama asked for a yearlong extension of the 2-percentage-point cut in the payroll taxes that fund Social Security. A reluctant House passed a bill that extended the holiday for a year and paid for it with revenue increases and spending cuts -- some of which the Democrats reviled.
Boehner told the Senate to work out its own package. But Republican and Democrats in the Senate failed to reach a yearlong deal. They passed a two-month extension, promised to revisit the issue after their winter break and left town. Now the House has rejected the two-month deal, saying there’s still time to work out the differences. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid says, essentially, take it or leave it.
There’s little evidence that Democrats will yield, although they too are mindful of the appearances. Obama has delayed his holiday vacation in Hawaii. Democrats in the House unsuccessfully tried to bring the Senate bill to the floor on Wednesday. Senate Democrats planned a conference call with reporters later in the day.
Senate Republicans aren’t the only ones to have abandoned the House cause. The staunchly conservative Wall Street Journal editorial board blasted the House Republican strategy as a "fiasco."
"The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play," the board wrote. "Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter."
Boehner answered on Wednesday: "We are the party of lower taxes for the American people. We have fought for lower taxes for the 21 years that I’ve been in this Congress, and we are going to continue to be party of lower taxes. We can resolve these differences between these two parties."
Boehner dodged a question on whether the negotiators would stay in Washington on Christmas.
"We’re here, ready to do our work," he said.