In a sudden change of position, Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives agreed on Thursday to support a short-term extension of the Social Security payroll-tax cut and federal unemployment benefits.
The reversal came two days after the Republican-controlled House rebuked the two-month extension approved by the Democrat-controlled Senate on Saturday. House members were immediately hit by heavy criticism from the congressional Democrats, President Barack Obama and other sources, including the conservative Wall Street Journal, which said in an editorial that the GOP had managed to "lose the tax issue to Obama."
Republicans tried to regain ground on tax policy Thursday, with support from U.S. Rep. Kristi Noem, R-S.D., who joined the Republican majority in accepting the two-month compromise that she and others rejected two days earlier.
Noem told the Journal Thursday that she was willing to accept the short-term extension now because the compromise came with an agreement from Senate Democratic leader Harry Reid of Nevada to appoint a conference committee in the Senate to begin work on a longer extension of the payroll tax cut. That deal also would include work on provisions to pay for the reduced tax revenue and avoid worsening the national debt, Noem said.
"I'm comfortable with that," she said. "I think that shows willingness by the Senate to do a full year and work out the pay-fors and everything in the meantime."
The House move appears to all but assure that 160 million workers won't be hit by a 2-percentage-point increase in the payroll tax on Jan. 1. It would also renew jobless benefits for almost 2 million people who have been without jobs for more than six months. And it would spare doctors from a cut in Medicare payments.
Noem represented freshman Republican House members in discussing a potential agreement in a GOP leadership telephone meeting earlier Thursday. After the meeting, she said she was hopeful a deal could be made to avoid the Jan. 1 tax hike. Shortly after that, word came out of Washington that it was done.
The agreement came after urging from Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who had worked out the Senate deal earlier with the Democrat leader Reid. Part of that Senate deal involved Reid's concession to allow provisions to force the U.S. State Department and Obama to make a decision within 60 days on the controversial Keystone XL Pipeline.
Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., said the Keystone provisions were important to getting his support for the compromise. He said early Thursday afternoon that he hoped House Republicans would accept the short-term tax-cut extension until both bodies could shape a longer extension, which would be needed before the two-month deal expires.
"I think McConnell is offering a good deal," Thune said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.
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