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Congress At Impasse Over Must-Pass Measures

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Congress is supposed to head home for the holidays at the end of this week, but there's a whole lot of work to do before then. And for now at least, the parties remain divided over a number of other must-pass measures.

This is the part of the tango of Congress where the Republican House offers a plan.

"The House is going to do its job, and it's time for the Senate then to do its job," said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, at a press conference Monday.

Then, as if on cue, the Democratic Senate balked.

This was, of course, preceded by the part of the dance where the Democratic Senate offered and failed to pass its own version, because it couldn't overcome a Republican filibuster.

"Every hour they delay and every day they filibuster is one more the Senate by necessity will have to stay in Washington to get its work done," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., on the floor.

On the line are extended unemployment benefits for millions who have been out of work more than six months, and a payroll tax holiday that if it isn't extended would mean $1,000 less in take-home pay next year for the average family.

Before the end of the year, Congress also has to act on the so-called doc fix, otherwise Medicare reimbursements for doctors would drop drastically. And there are numerous tax fixes that add up to billions of dollars.

It's a lot. But Boehner said Monday the House will vote on a bill that takes care of all these things and more.

"I do believe it's going to pass with bipartisan support and when it comes to jobs, the American people can't wait, so we're going to take action," he said.

But even if he's right about bipartisan support in the House, the path to passage in the Senate is virtually nonexistent. That's because the House bill contains a number of provisions a majority of Democrats don't support: The bill would significantly cut back benefits for the long-term unemployed. And most notably it would force the Obama administration to act within 60 days on the controversial Keystone XL pipeline.

"The American people want jobs," Boehner said. "This is as close to a shovel ready project as you're ever going to see."

The pipeline would bring oil from Canada to refineries in the South. Republicans call it a job creator. Democrats are worried about possible environmental impacts. The Obama administration says it needs until 2013 to make a decision.

This is a fight that's been raging for some time and is now attached to the end-of-year must-pass legislative discussions.

"It's time to stop the posturing," said Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. "Here's a bill that contains top priorities from both sides. Let's take it up and pass it without any more theatrics."

If the past is any guide, the theatrics this week are only getting started. Democrats are still insisting that the payroll tax holiday be paid for with a surtax on income over $1 million a year.

"Should we ask the wealthiest in America to pay a little more in taxes so that we can provide a payroll tax cut for almost 160 million Americans?" asked Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Il., the No. 2 Democrat in the Senate. "What we hear from the other side of the aisle over and over again is 'no.'"

In fact, they've heard it in the form of failed bills twice in the past two weeks.

The thing Democrats really want is the thing Republicans hate. And the thing Republicans want is the thing Democrats are against. And yet, somehow between now and Christmas, most political watchers believe the partisan differences will quietly be worked out.

Members of Congress will make it home for the holidays with plenty of presents for their constituents in the form of a payroll tax holiday, extended unemployment benefits and a whole sleigh full of other end of year fixes.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


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