Montana's senior senator announced that today he will hold the first meeting of a special committee tasked with extending benefits that are hoped to help with the economic recovery.
Democratic Sen. Max Baucus, who chairs the Senate Finance Committee, released an advisory Monday saying that the conference committee on payroll tax deductions, which he co-chairs with House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Dave Camp, R-Mich., would meet today at 12:30 p. m.
"Each member of this conference committee will bring a unique set of ideas to the table, but the important thing is we are all at the table together, " Baucus said this morning. "This isn't about a debate in Washington, its about families in Montana who are counting on us to keep a little more money in their pockets so they can shop at local stores, eat at local restaurants and keep our whole economy moving.
"Those folks are what motivates me, and Im confident we can come together for them and find a responsible way to extend this tax cut without adding a dime to the deficit, "Baucus added.
The meeting will be televised by C-SPAN and streamed live at http://www.republicans.waysandmeans.house.gov.
The issue of extending the reduction in payroll taxes, along with extending unemployment benefits and implementing a "doc fix" to prevent reductions in Medicare payments to physicians, caused a ruckus last month with a showdown between the House and Senate.
After a Senate version to extend and increase payroll tax cuts for 12 months, increasing the cuts from 2 percent to half its normal rate with a 3.1 percent cut was blocked, the House passed a 12-month extension of the 2 percent cut. The House bill included several riders, including a requirement President Barack Obama make a decision within 60 days on issuing a permit for an oil pipeline that would run from Alberta through Montana en route to Texas which was sponsored by Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., blocked the House bill from coming to a vote. The Senate, saying it did not have enough time to resolve the differences between the bills by the Dec. 31 deadline, then passed a bipartisan two-month extension of the 2-percent cut, 89-10.
Baucus helped broker including the Keystone XL oil pipeline permit decision requirement, originally sponsored by Sen. Richard Lugar, R-Ind., in the extension. After he successfully sponsored an amendment adding language intended to protect private property holders with regards to the construction of the pipeline, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., joined Baucus and 87 other senators in passing the bill.
The Senate then recessed for the Christmas holiday.
Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, originally opposed the two-month extension, and the House approved Dec. 20 "disagreeing with the Senate amendments" and calling for a conference committee to resolve differences between the House and Senate versions. Rehberg voted for the motion, which passed 229-193.
After most of the Representatives also had gone home for the holiday, Boehner reversed himself and called for a vote of unanimous consent on the Senate compromise, which passed the House Dec. 23.
The pipeline provision created more political hay last week when Obama denied granting a permit for Keystone XL Pipeline, saying the "arbitrarily" imposed two-month deadline did not give enough time to analyze environmental impacts of the pipeline.
The conference committee meeting today will take up resolving the differences between the House and Senate bills to extend the payroll tax cuts and other benefits through the rest of the year, and figuring out how to pay for those extensions.
With the political impacts of failing to extend the benefits and tax cuts during an election year, the committee is expected to come to some kind of an agreement before the extension expires Feb. 29. Analysts speculate that the final agreement could be close to the deadline, both with complex negotiations and analysis required as well as with Democrats possibly trying to capitalize on a perception of partisan obstructionism following the House blocking the extension Dec. 20.