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House Passes GOP Payroll Tax Plan

Ignoring a veto threat from the president and a promise that the Senate would shoot it down, the House passed a GOP plan to extend the payroll tax cut and other expiring provisions this evening.

The measure passed 234-193, with 10 Democrats voting for it and 14 Republicans voting against.

Following the vote, Speaker John Boehner poked fun at the White House’s use of a prop countdown clock, which Democrats used to pressure Republicans on the payroll tax issue.

“The White House needs to update their clock because now it’s time for the Senate to act,” the Ohio Republican told reporters.

His message was echoed by House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

“We got a strong bipartisan vote in there,” the Virginia Republican said while leaving the House chamber. “My question for the president is, ‘Why are we waiting?’ Demonstrating here there’s bipartisan support for this bill, he ought to go ahead and join us. It’s time for him to compromise.”

Controversial measures tacked onto the bill all but ensure that the package will languish in the Senate.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid took to the floor less than an hour after the vote to declare the House Republican plan “dead on arrival.”

The Nevada Democrat had attempted to hold an immediate Senate vote to kill the GOP bill but could not get Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to agree to it.

Aides in both parties suggested they were waiting for the House to pass its bill before making a decisive next step, meaning that backroom negotiations may now begin in earnest.

Senate Democrats have talked about releasing their own counteroffer, discussing options at their weekly caucus lunch, but it was unclear tonight whether they would do that.

Time is running short for both parties to find agreement now that the White House and Senate Democrats have linked final passage of a sweeping omnibus agreement to the bill. The current government funding bill expires Friday.

The House-passed bill would extend the temporary payroll tax holiday, extend unemployment benefits and fix the Medicare reimbursement for doctors for two years.

Although Democrats have sought these extensions, they object to certain reforms to the unemployment insurance system and the fact that the “doc fix” is paid for by cuts to President Barack Obama’s health care reform, among other things.

Democrats most vocally objected to the inclusion of a measure that would force Obama to fast-track a decision on the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline, a measure that they say is not germane.

Obama’s objection to the bill galvanized some Republicans who would not have otherwise voted for the bill.

Rep. Jeff Landry, who earlier this month introduced a payroll tax cut extension bill of his own, said he would not normally have supported this version of the extension.

“At the end of the day, the fact that we’ve got at least something in there to pay for it is good,” the Louisiana Republican said. “We’ve got real reform on unemployment insurance and the Keystone pipeline in there. And the fact that the president said he’d veto it really made me want to vote for it.”

House Republican Conference Chairman Jeb Hensarling (Texas) was particularly acerbic in his attacks on the White House, charging that Obama was “finding an excuse to pick a fight, seemingly so he could run against the House.”

Other Republicans voted against the measure on objections that the bill was too unwieldy.

Rep. Jeff Flake, who is running for the Senate, voted against the bill because he said it would add to the deficit.

“The deficit, we just exploded it. [The bill] adds to it big time,” the Arizona Republican said. “We talked and talked and talked about cutting spending, and when we feel it important to send a message on some rider or whatever else, in the end, we just pile on more debt.”

Rep. Timothy Johnson (R) also voted against it, saying it would not be favorable for people in the newly redrawn Illinois district that he is running for, which is more Democrat-friendly than his old district.

“Given the magnitude and size of the bill, I thought it was better to err on the side of what I think is better public policy, and I think we can do a lot better than that,” he said.

The Democrats who voted for the bill were mostly fiscally conservative Blue Dogs who followed suit after Rep. Dan Boren (Okla.) became the first Democrat to announce earlier this week that he would vote for the bill.

Before the vote, Democrats forced a vote on a motion to recommit on an alternate version of the payroll tax bill that would have included a tax increase on millionaires and provisions of the much-publicized STOCK Act, which aims to curb insider trading among Members of Congress. The measure failed.

John Stanton contributed to this report.

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