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House Republicans Temper Expectations on Payroll Tax Deal

House Republican leaders emerged from a closed-door Conference meeting this morning tempering expectations that a majority of their Conference will accept a deal coming out of the payroll tax conference committee.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters that barring a late setback in the talks, he expects a vote this week. The Republican concession on paying for a payroll tax cut, he said, was necessary to complete a deal.

“I do expect if the agreement comes together like I expect it will, the House will vote this week,” he said. “We were not going to allow the Democrats to continue to play political games and raise taxes on working Americans. And so we made a decision to bring this to the table so the games would stop and we would get this work done.”

Nevertheless, the decision to forgo offsets could cost the leaders votes from within their own Conference. A handful of conservatives have already stated that they will not vote for a bill because it does not pay for $100 billion cost of the payroll tax holiday with spending reductions elsewhere.

Those in charge of wrangling votes on the potential agreement were cautious when asked whether their Conference will accept it, indicating that they may even have to rely on Democratic votes to pass the bill, something leaders have mostly sought to avoid.

“If all the conferees sign it — that’s what you want to look at — you’ll get votes on both sides of the aisle and it will pass,” Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said.

Chief Deputy Majority Whip Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) added: “Let’s look at all the details and see where Members are when they read it. And then, ultimately, you would assume since it’s a negotiated deal, you would have bipartisan support.”

Republicans are also taking issue with the unemployment insurance provisions in the deal, which reduce the number of weeks an unemployed person could receive jobless benefits from 93 to 63 in most states, according to a GOP aide familiar with the talks. One Senate Democratic aide said some states will still have up to 99 weeks of jobless benefits through May, while other states will be able to offer up to 73 weeks through December.

Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan said he is undecided on the package because he isn’t sure the unemployment insurance reforms go far enough.

“I’m still looking at it,” the Ohio lawmaker said. “I would prefer for it to be separate, to do the payroll tax separate and then work on the reforms that need to happen to unemployment.”

Other Republicans are taking issue with the offsets, which help fund jobless benefits and alleviate a scheduled cut to doctors’ Medicare reimbursements.

“Pay-fors around here get to be a little squishy,” Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.) said. “There’s a lot of smoke, a lot of mirrors sometimes in pay-fors, so you want to make sure the pay-fors are real, that you’re not taking 10 years’ worth of savings to pay for one year worth of expenditures, for example.”

Indeed, many of the details are still emerging, and Democrats were quick to note that a deal is not yet final, casting some amount of doubt on the next steps for the conference committee, which is supposed to meet later today.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) began a morning press conference by hailing an “enormous victory for the American people and clearly an enormous win for the president of the United States” in the payroll deal.

But pressed on details of the agreement, Larson and Caucus Vice Chairman Xavier Becerra (Calif.) — a member of the payroll conference committee — expressed lingering reservations, especially on the length of time unemployment insurance is extended to individuals.

“I remember when I was serving on the super committee how we kept on hearing the news that there was a deal. I remember when I was on the Bowles-Simpson commission how we were hearing that we were going to get the two-thirds vote necessary to get the deal. And I hear that we’ve got a deal wrapped up on this payroll tax cut conference,” Becerra said. “I’ve learned to wait until I see the deal to know that there’s a deal. … We’re still a long ways from getting there.”

Jessica Brady and Jonathan Strong contributed to this report.

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