Clearing Out the Must-Pass Stuff

Reports are now breaking out all over Washington that the earlier tentative decision of the House Republican leadership to accept a payroll tax “holiday” extension until the end of the year without budget “offsets” is now broadening into a tentative bipartisan agreement on the other “expiring provisions” demanding immediate attention. These are an extension of unemployment benefits and the so-called “Doc Fix,” the annual adjustment of Medicare provider reimbursement rates to avoid a radical drop in rates and a potential flight from the program.

Unlike the payroll tax holiday extension, the other provisions of the deal do involve “offsets” (mostly involving increased pension contributions by federal workers), and Democrats have accepted significant reductions in the maximum number of weeks of unemployment insurance that will be available. But the packaging of all three “must-pass” measures addresses earlier Democratic fears that the apparent GOP surrender on payroll tax offsets was actually just a ploy to identify Republicans with a tax cut and Democrats with additional spending measures that would continue to face obstruction.

More importantly, the tentative deal would reduce the risk of election-year “hostage-taking” whereby conservatives would attach some particularly obnoxious legislation (say, overturning the contraception coverage mandate) to a “must-pass” bill. Hostage-taking will obviously still be attempted (e.g, with the pending transportation reauthorization bill), but not with the same prospects for success.

You never know if the House GOP rank-and-file will support any deal its leadership strikes, and freshman Tea Party types will line up for an opportunity to vote against it. But it looks like Members of Congress are ready to put this congressional session on autopilot and spend more time back home running for re-election, with many in somewhat unfamiliar territory thanks to redistricting.

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Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.