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By Tim Leeds 

Rehberg touts passage of payroll tax, pipeline bill


Montana's sole U. S. representative praised the House passage of a bill that includes his requirement that a decision be made within 60 days on issuing a permit for an oil pipeline.

But his opponent in the 2012 Senate election criticized tying the issue to the deadline-driven issue of extending a payroll tax holiday.

Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont., said in a press release Tuesday that the Senate should follow suit in passing the legislation, which requires a decision on issuing a permit on the Keystone XL pipeline that would run from Alberta through Montana.

"Keystone XL is shovel-ready and it will create thousands of jobs, " Rehberg said. "It's funded with private investment not tax dollars. All we need is a federal permit — something that's already taken three years.

"Instead of looking for weak excuses to not support this legislation, I hope all the senators who claim to support these jobs will find the courage to stand up to the party bosses and do the right thing for Montanans, " he added.

But Sen. Jon Tester, who Rehberg is challenging in the Senate race, said tying the two issues together is just playing politics.

"I do not believe we should have to wait until January of 2013 for a decision that can create American jobs right now, " Tester said in a speech on the floor of the Senate Tuesday. "At the same time, I am concerned about the way folks on both sides of this issue are handling things right now.

"We do not need to tangle this issue up with the payroll tax in a House bill that would add more than $25 billion more to our debt and would cut Medicare benefits, " he added.

Tester spokesman Aaron Murphy said this morning that a Congressional Budget Office report said the Republican bill would increase the federal deficit by $25.3 billion.

Tester and Baucus both have said they support the pipeline, as long as it is carefully constructed and its creation protects private property rights.

Tester said both the pipeline and his proposal called the Forest Jobs Act, that would require creation of wilderness and recreation areas and mandate logging in national forests in Montana, should be debated and voted on in a responsible manner.

"But instead, politicians on both sides are using both these important items as political footballs, " Tester said. "That's too bad. "

Tester voted against both Democratic and Republican bills extending the payroll tax cut earlier in December, but voted Thursday for a different proposal extending the payroll tax cuts.

Murphy said the senator supports extending those cuts, and the bill Thursday included provisions Tester supported, while previous bills contained provisions he opposed.

"The devil is in the details, " Murphy said.

Baucus has supported extending the payroll tax cut.

"More money in the pockets of Montana workers means more customers for Montana businesses and more jobs for our state, " he said this morning. "I am determined to extend the payroll tax cut for the Montana families who are counting on it. "

The bill passed by the House has little chance of passage in the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, has said it will not pass the Senate and is pushing for a quick vote to kill the bill.

President Barack Obama has said he will veto payroll tax cut bills if other issues are attached, specifically citing the Keystone pipeline as an example.

Obama delayed a decision on issuing a permit for the pipeline until after the 2012 election, following a request from Nebraska's Republican Gov. Dave Heineman, who cited environmental concerns.

Politico, a website covering political news, reports that the addition of the pipeline — and other side issues — to the payroll tax cut may equate to Republicans violating a pledge they made to deal with issues on a one-at-a-time basis.

"In the Pledge to America, released by GOP leadership under much fanfare in September 2010, Republicans said they would 'end the practice of packaging unpopular bills with "must-pass" legislation to circumvent the will of the American people. Instead, we will advance major legislation one issue at a time, ' they said …, " Politico's Jake Sherman reported Dec. 11. "The year-end legislative package centered on extending the payroll tax has turned into a holiday tree filled with legislative ornaments ranging from the Keystone XL oil pipeline, the sale of broadband spectrum, an extension of jobless benefits, changes to Medicare and easing of certain environmental standards. "

Politico reports that Republican leaders say the bill is not must-pass legislation and does not include unpopular provisions, so it still meets the requirements of the pledge.

Democrats are pushing for deeper cuts in payroll taxes — 3.1 percent rather than the 2 percent in the Republican bill, which is the same as the cuts set to expire Dec. 31 — and want to pay for it using a surtax on millionaires.

The Republican version primarily pays for the cuts by extending a freeze on federal employees' pay and requiring them to contribute more to their pensions; making higher-earning seniors pay steeper premiums for Medicare; cutting funds from the health care reform plan; raising some federal fees; and selling portions of the broadcast spectrum.

It also would extend unemployment benefits and prevent a cut in Medicare payment rates to doctors.


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