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CQ Roll Call: Lawmakers Still At Odds On Payroll Tax Cuts

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David Hawkings, CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing

After things seemed to be looking up late last week for a deal in Congress to extend a payroll tax cut beyond the end of the year, lawmakers once again appear to be at an impasse. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) now says he's opposing a bipartisan two-month extension passed by the Senate on Saturday, saying lawmakers should pass a full year extension instead. 

David Hawkings, editor-in-chief of CQ Roll Call Daily Briefing, talks with WAMU Morning Edition host Matt McCleskey about the latest developments and the likelihood of a deal happening before the end of the year.  Here are some highlights:

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Boehner had told Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) that he would be able to negotiate "the best deal they thought they could get" on the payroll tax cuts and unemployment insurance extensions and send it to the House, but he may have spoken too soon, says Hawkings.

"By the time speaker actually laid this out for his members on Saturday afternoon it was clear that he had miscalculated the degree of anger about it," Hawkings says. 

Instead, the speaker is now calling for the members to bring the House and Senate versions of the bill to conference -- something that seems unlikely given that the Senate has already left for holiday recess. 

"Harry Reid has the power to call them back, and he says he's not going to," Hawkings says. House members are expected to vote down the Senate bill tonight, although Democrats are still holding out hope that the bill could pass with a few Republican votes. 

"I think the betting odds is that that won't happen, and then we will be really really stuck," Hawkings says. The congressional calendar could make working out a deal difficult. 

"I suppose there's a chance they could come back after Christmas, but yes, the the calendar is definitely conspiring against an easy deal," Hawking says.

If the payroll tax break was allowed to expire, it might not cause too much of an economic hardship if it were fixed by February, Hawkings points out, but allowing unemployment insurance to expire would have real, immediate consequences. There are 1.8 million unemployed people that would lose benefits in January if Congress doesn't extend unemployment insurance.

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