WASHINGTON – House Republicans returned to Washington on Monday, intent on ditching a bipartisan Senate deal to extend a federal payroll tax holiday for two months, charging that the deal represented the old ways of doing business that they were elected to change.

“We were elected for a reason,” freshman Rep. Renee L. Ellmers, R-N.C., said Monday evening after a two-hour huddle of Republicans in a Capitol basement meeting room. “That was because the American people were tired of business as usual.”

For the first time in a month of partisan sparring over the tax cut, neither side appeared confident that they would ultimately resolve the issue and avoid a January tax hike for 160 million American workers.

There was still uncertainty late Monday about how House action would unfold. After the gathering, GOP leaders said they would hold the key votes this morning instead of late Monday, explaining they did not want it to appear as if they were voting in the dark of night.

House Speaker John A. Boehner, R-Ohio, had predicted the likely outcome earlier in the day when he declared that the House would reject the Senate bill and seek to renegotiate the package.

Maine’s Democratic Reps. Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Mike Michaud of the 2nd District urged House Republicans to reconsider and support the Senate’s two-month extension.

“Letting the payroll tax cut expire and letting unemployment benefits run out will not only make it harder on struggling Maine families, it will also take hundreds of millions of dollars out of the Maine economy beginning January 1st,” Pingree said in a statement. “This is the wrong time to hold these important programs hostage to partisan Washington politics.”

Michaud said in a phone interview that House Republicans are playing political “Russian roulette” if they try to force the Senate to negotiate a one-year extension now.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said in a statement that she prefers a one-year extension, too, noting that she introduced her own proposal to do that with Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo. But she said House Republicans now must act to pass the Senate bill that she and Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, both backed.

Snowe stopped short of calling on the House GOP to immediately pass the Senate bill, and said via email she would have preferred a one-year extension, too.

But Snowe said that what is “paramount at this point is that this tax benefit for hardworking Americans not be allowed to lapse.”

Senate Democrats accused Boehner and his leadership team of walking away from the deal as a capitulation to tea party elements in the GOP caucus and say they have no plans to reopen talks.

If the House rejects a Senate deal that was adopted on an 89-10 vote, they said, it would amount to nixing the tax cut.

But GOP critics of the two-month deal said it amounts to a quick fix and a half-measure that does not solve the larger problem of stimulating the economy.

Members said there was an energetic unity in opposition to the Senate bill at their closed-door meeting Monday. Again and again, Republicans mentioned the movie “Braveheart” to inspire them for the fight ahead, some said.

Boehner said the House would formally request new negotiations with the Senate over how to pay for a $120 billion, full-year extension of the tax cut.

President Obama has made extending the expiring one-year payroll tax holiday his central end-of-the-year priority, arguing that allowing workers to keep and spend more of their paychecks would boost the still-sputtering economy.

If the tax holiday is not extended, payroll taxes will jump from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent in January, costing the average family $1,000 next year.

The Senate package also includes provisions that would extend jobless benefits for millions of unemployed Americans and avert a cut in reimbursement rates for doctors who treat Medicare patients.

Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid, D-Nev., said he had no intention of restarting talks with the House.

A two-month deal, he said, would provide time for the parties to work out a deal for the entire year.

As chaos enveloped the Capitol on Monday, Democrats appeared confident that the Republican decision to reject the Senate compromise would reinforce their argument that President Obama’s efforts to improve the economy have been thwarted by GOP lawmakers.

House Republicans were equally confident that Americans would blame Democrats – who have spent weeks promising to work through the holidays to settle the issue – if they now shut down talks.

The House drama once again highlighted Boehner’s tenuous hold over his own 242-member caucus, which includes dozens of freshmen elected on promises to remake Washington.

Boehner denied Monday that he ever signed off on the Senate deal.

Faced with a backlash from House members, Boehner had, by Sunday, said publicly that he was opposed to the two-month measure.

As the House drama played out, a small but influential band of Senate Republicans broke ranks with Boehner, castigating his leadership team for risking a tax increase at the start of the year rather than simply approving the Senate bill and then beginning longer-term negotiations for a full year’s benefit.

“What is playing out in Washington, D.C., this week is about political leverage, not about what’s good for the American people.

Congress can work out a solution without stopping the payroll tax cut extension for the middle class,” Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev.