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House rejects payroll tax stopgap, hardening standoff

NBC's Kelly O'Donnell reports.


Last updated at 2:30 p.m.

House Republicans moved Tuesday to reject a Senate-passed tax cut extension, hardening a standoff over whether to extend an expiring payroll tax cut and clouding the prospects for a clear resolution to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1.

The House passed a measure that served the twin purposes of implicitly rejecting the Senate's bipartisan legislation extending an expiring payroll tax cut for two months, while volleying House Republicans' own proposal back to the Senate, where Democrats are in the majority.


Some 229 House members, all Republicans, voted to send the payroll tax cut to conference, the formal (and less commonly used) process to resolve legislative differences with the Senate. Seven Republicans joined 186 Democrats in opposition to this plan.

President Obama, in a surprise appearance at the White House briefing, condemned Republicans for playing politics with the vote, and urged Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and House Republicans to defuse "brinksmanship" and pass the two-month deal.

"Let's be clear: Right now, the bipartisan compromise that was reached on Saturday is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on Jan. 1," he said.

The legislative maneuver allowed Republicans to avoid having to specifically vote against the Senate's two-month tax cut, while still voicing their opposition to the deal.

It also solidifies a standoff with Senate Democrats about how to resolve the payroll tax issue by Dec. 31, when the yearlong tax holiday is set to expire. Democrats have said they would refuse to appoint conferees to help resolve the dispute, and would instead insist on House Republicans to relent, and approve the two-month-long cut.

"I think the next step is clear: President Obama needs to call on Senate Democrats to go back into session, move to go to conference, and sit down and resolve this bill as soon as possible," Boehner said at a brief press conference at the Capitol, shortly after Obama delivered his remarks.

Both sides are directly pressuring the other to act first.

"The bill is back in the Senate, so if Harry Reid says he's not going to appoint conferees ... he's going to have to answer to the American people," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-VA) said on MSNBC following the vote.

Democrats seem content, though, to sit back and wait for House Republicans to blink first.

"Pressure every day is mounting on Republicans," Senate Democrats' messaging chief, Sen. Charles Schumer (NY), said Tuesday morning on MSNBC's Daily Rundown. "All you have to do is let the pressure mount, day in day out. And they will come back and support the two month [extension]."

GOP Sen. Scott Brown (MA), who was one of the first Republicans to openly criticize this week's actions in the House, said he was angered by Tuesday's House vote.

"It angers me that House Republicans would rather continue playing politics than find solutions," Brown said in a statement. "Their actions will hurt American families and be detrimental to our fragile economy."

Lawmakers will spend the afternoon debating and voting on motions to instruct House members on those theoretical deliberations with the Senate. This measure would essentially detail just what Republicans are seeking as an output of negotiations. (In this case, Republicans insist that the extension last a whole calendar year.)

After those votes, though, most lawmakers are expected to head back to their districts in observance of this week's holidays, leaving work to conferees. Boehner said the negotiators he had named to hammer out a deal would remain in Washington, as would members of the GOP leadership. He suggested, though, that the rest of the Republicans would go home.

Obama has postponed his own vacation to handle the payroll tax dispute, and made a personal plea to Boehner to help navigate the crisis. Boehner, when asked about that appeal, shot back: "I need the president to help out!"

NBC's Frank Thorp contributed to this report.

House Speaker John Boehner says, "I need the president to help," during a news conference where he and the Republican leadership gathered to urge Democrats to join Republicans in passing a one year extended payroll tax bill.