Q: While they work through these differences, why the fuss over whether Congress first approves a two-month or a one-year plan?
A: For one thing, many freshman and conservative House Republicans are tired of compromising with the Senate and want their leaders to take a stand. They also say a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut would create uncertainty for taxpayers and businesses and problems for employers' payroll systems.
Many House Republicans hate the idea of keeping the issue alive until March 1, when the two-month bill would expire. Democrats have damaged Republicans politically with proposals to pay for the payroll tax cut by boosting levies on the rich. GOP lawmakers solidly oppose that approach, saying it would discourage job creation, and Democrats have used that to argue that Republicans are defending the wealthy at the expense of the middle class.
That's not an argument Republicans want to spend the 2012 election year having. As a result, many want to avoid additional votes on the matter next year, and they don't want to let Obama spend next month's State of the Union address discussing it. They would rather spend 2012 voting on issues they feel are on their terrain, like blocking Obama administration regulations, reducing the size of government and cutting its spending.
Q: What about Democrats?
A: They say the tax cut and unemployment coverage must be renewed to protect the millions who would be hurt Jan. 1. They also have no desire to surrender leverage by abandoning the two-month deal negotiated by the Senate's Reid and McConnell.
But they, too, have political motivations.
Democrats cite economists who say the payroll tax would pump enough money into the economy to help it grow slightly next year. Knowing that the 2012 presidential and congressional races are likely to hinge on the economy's performance, they want to take no chances with anything that might tip the economy in the wrong direction. To them, that means the payroll tax cut and extra jobless coverage must be extended.