PARKERSBURG - Congressmen from West Virginia encouraged lawmakers to end their bickering following passage of a two-month extension of the Social Security payroll tax cut on Friday.
The House leadership, which roadblocked a bipartisan agreement by the Senate for the 60-day extension, relented on Thursday, and on Friday morning the House by unanimous consent approved the extension, followed by a similar action in the Senate where its version was approved last week 89-10 with most Democrats and Republicans in favor. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., was one of the 10 votes against.
Earlier this week, the Republican-controlled House with Republican Reps. Shelley Moore Capito and David McKinley in agreement and Rep. Nick Rahall opposed voted to send the issue to a conference committee instead of voting on the Senate's two-month extension. Agreement came Thursday after House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, was encouraged by fellow Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky.
"I am happy to see a deal was reached before the New Year, absolutely. When unemployment has been at or above 8 percent for over two-and-a-half years, no one wants to raise taxes on 160 million Americans. However, this does not negate the fact that Americans are sick and tired of the constant bickering and down-to-the wire negotiations that happen far too often in Washington," Capito said on Friday. "Americans deserve to know what their taxes are going to be and whether they'll receive unemployment benefits for more than a two month stretch."
The measure also extends unemployment benefits and prevents cuts in Medicare reimbursement rates for doctors.
McKinley remains against the payroll tax cut.
"I have consistently spoken out against any kind of extension of the payroll tax cut, whether it's two months or one year. If not now, when are we going to stop raiding the Social Security Trust Fund in order to win election-year points with voters," McKinley said. "The payroll tax cut extension just won't work. It hasn't for the past year. Half-hearted commitments to American job creators will never be able to produce the economic stability our country needs."
McKinley also criticized the politics.
"While I am pleased that this legislation means that doctors won't face a 27 percent cut to their reimbursement rates and that unemployed families will continue to receive the temporary benefits they need, the petty political games that led to this moment were appalling," he said. "Washington is broken, and there is no stronger proof than these past couple weeks. We must put aside the election-year politics and do what's right."
At stake to the average worker was $20 a week in extra taxes. The bill also extends unemployment benefits, prevents reductions in Medicare reimbursements to doctors and requires the administration to expedite a decision on the permit for the Keystone crude oil pipeline from Canada to U.S. refineries rather than waiting until after the 2012 elections.
"After much ballyhooing, I am glad that the House of Representatives has finally passed the two-month extension bill. In addition to the temporary Social Security payroll tax cut, it is critical to ensuring that unemployment benefits and Medicare-financed health services continue uninterrupted," Rahall said. "I will keep working and I hope the whole Congress keeps working toward finding a longer-term solution."
Manchin's argument against the bill was the impact on Social Security in the future. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., who supported the extension, said the bill protects Social Security along with providing tax relief to 900,000 workers in West Virginia.
Rockefeller said he was relieved by the House action, saying Republicans leaders there came to their senses in time before the expiration of the tax cut. The cut from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent was approved in 2010.
"This plan lets every working person keep more of their own paychecks right away, so they can pay their bills, buy groceries or just know there's a little more money in their wallet when they need it. It's also good for the economy and jobs - because when working people can afford to buy the things they need, businesses start hiring," Rockefeller said Friday.
The agreement reached on Friday and the "dysfunction of the past few weeks prove once again that now is the time for our leaders and all members of Congress to put politics aside and come together in the new year to find the long-term compromise that proved elusive these past few weeks," Manchin said. Manchin said he will support a bipartisan compromise protecting the solvency of Social Security and will encourage lawmakers not to allow politics or party to undermine Social Security.
"While so many West Virginians and I would have preferred a long-term deal that would protect the future solvency of Social Security, today's announcement of a short-term extension does not change our responsibility to do what is right," Manchin said. "For the sake of Social Security, we must find a responsible long-term compromise that does not sacrifice our seniors or ignore the need for meaningful tax reform to address our exploding debt."