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Tuesday December 20, 2011 | 02:19 PM

They weren’t happy last night when the House was on the verge of rejecting the Senate’s two-month payroll tax cut extension, and now Reps. Chellie Pingree and Mike Michaud are downright steamed.

(Updated as of 4:30 p.m. : Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, says it is “absolutely confounding and deeply regrettable that we have reached this impasse.  It is now incumbent upon the President and the leadership of the House and Senate to sit down immediately to forge an agreement that serves the American people and will garner the support of both houses of Congress.”

Snowe said via email this afternoon that, “It would be unconscionable for Americans to pay the price should Washington fail to come together and prevent a tax increase for hardworking families on January 1st.)

The Maine Democrats are slamming majority House Republicans for refusing even to allow an up or down vote on the Senate bill, which also included an extension of long-term unemployment benefits. House GOP leaders, instead, held a vote on a motion to send the Senate bill to a House-Senate conference, which allowed GOP rank-and-file members to case a “yes” vote rather than a “no” vote.

“There is a bipartisan Senate agreement that passed overwhelmingly, but House leaders refused to even hold an up or down vote on it,” said Michaud, of the 2nd District, in a statement. “It’s infuriating how out of touch Congress is right now. The American people know exactly what will happen in January if this issue isn’t resolved – taxes will go up for workers and unemployed Americans will lose benefits that are critical to them making ends meet.”

I’m deeply disappointed that House Republicans refused to accept a bipartisan compromise that would have protected a payroll tax cut for working families and extended unemployment benefits for people who are still struggling to find work in this tough economy. 

Pingree, of the 1st District, said in a statement that, “Instead of doing the responsible thing and protecting these programs the Tea Party Republicans are acting like the Grinch that Stole Christmas and threatening to raise taxes on average families when the can least afford it.”

House Republicans say what is needed is a full one-year extension of the tax cut, and a way to pay for that year’s extension. They say the Senate should come back and negotiate a final deal.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., says the Senate passed an extension that gave both sides time to bargain next year and that he won’t call senators back to town before the tax cut and unemployment benefits expire Dec. 31.  

GOP Sens. Susan Collins and Olympia Snowe of Maine both voted for the Senate bill that passed Saturday 89-10. Collins and Snowe say the impasse shouldn’t be allowed to result in the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits expiring in January.

Maine on the Hill is seeking comment from Collins and Snowe about whether they think the Senate should now come back to Washington to try to work out a deal with the House GOP, or what they think the next step should be. 

 

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Kevin Miller is Washington bureau chief for the Portland Press Herald and MaineToday Media. He has worked as a journalist in Maine for 6 ½ years, covering the environment, politics and the State House. Before arriving in Maine, he wrote about politics, government and education for newspapers in Virginia and Maryland.
Kevin can be reached at 317-6256 or kmiller@mainetoday.com

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