Sen. Harry Reid: Failure to pass payroll tax cut raises questions about Senate rules
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Friday the failure to pass an extension of the payroll tax holiday is a disaster for the Republicans and has focused a lot of attention on Senate rules.
The Democratic plan failed with just 51 of the 60 votes needed to get through the Senate. But Reid pointed out that the Republicans’ own plan received just 20 votes with 78 Senators, including most of their own members, opposing it.
“That was an absolute disaster for the Republicans,” Reid said.
“We’re going to get the payroll tax,” he said in a Friday phone interview. He said the difference is how to pay for the extension.
“We want to raise a tax just a little on millionaires,” he said. “They decided what they would do is lay off 250,000 federal employees.”
Among the rules members have questioned is the “motion to proceed,” which allows any Senator to block a vote on any bill.
“I had a conversation with (Sen.) John McCain the other night, and he said we need to get rid of motion to proceed because right now we can’t move forward on a bill until we get every senator,”Reid said.
One of the most prominent rules questioned particularly by the public is the requirement that legislation get 60 Senate votes to pass. Members of the majority party – Republican or Democrat – see that as allowing the minority to block any progress. Republicans, when they last ran the Senate, considered trying to repeal it. Now the shoe is on the other foot.
“Yes, the 60-vote rule has been used by the Republicans to slow things down,” Reid said.
But he pointed out that 30 years ago, the requirement was two-thirds of the Senate – 67 votes – to pass anything.
“We brought it down to 60,” he said.
Reid said the supermajority is a historic part of how the Senate operates.
He said there are other members talking about rule changes, as well, and that the 60-vote requirement could be lowered in the future or limits set on when it can be used. But, he said, since any rule change requires a two-thirds vote, “it’s hard to get that done.”
Reid said Republican leadership has been pleading with its membership to extend the expiration of the payroll tax cut on what both employees and employers pay to Social Security. He pointed to a Roll Call report that Speaker John Boehner told his caucus: “If you guys think that not extending the payroll tax is politically advantageous, you’ve got to be kidding yourself.” Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., is quoted by The Hill as telling the caucus: “You aren’t a Republican” if you vote against the extension.
“I think they’re really in a state of disarray,” Reid said.
Reid said he will work on a new plan and hopefully put it on the Senate floor Monday and schedule a vote. He said there are several options but that extending the cut without making up the lost revenue isn’t one of them.
His staff estimated that letting the payroll tax cut lapse would cost each median Nevada family $1,653 a year. The staff report pointed out employers – businesses – pay half that tax to Social Security and also would be hit if the cut goes away.
He said the payroll tax isn’t the only thing in the mix.
“Economists – mainstream economists – said there are two things to do to keep the economy moving,” he said. “Continuing the payroll tax holiday and the unemployment compensation extension.”
Reid said letting the extended unemployment benefits lapse at the end of the year would cost about a million jobs.
Asked about extending the interest forgiveness on loans that states have taken from the federal government to pay unemployment claims, he said that is “still being discussed, so no, but no sometimes really doesn’t mean no.
“We’ll see what happens before the end of the year.”
Nevada has an extension until the end of June on paying that tab, but if the interest isn’t forgiven on more than $700 million in loans, it will have to pay more than $30 million in each of the next two years.
Obama urges public help pushing payroll tax cuts, see page A15.