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Oklahoma lawmakers say payroll tax debate is exercise in politics

Oklahoma lawmakers predict that they could be in session close to Christmas as negotiations continue on tax cut for most U.S. workers
BY CHRIS CASTEEL Modified: December 11, 2011 at 12:24 am •  Published: December 11, 2011
/articleid/3631273/1/pictures/1584860">Photo - U.S. Rep. James Lankford <strong></strong>
U.S. Rep. James Lankford

Boren said Obama and Democrats have the political advantage now, since Republicans have portrayed themselves as the party of tax cuts, but he said the tables could be turned as the debate progresses if Republicans show themselves willing to negotiate.

The Keystone XL pipeline, with its promise of thousands of construction jobs, could help the GOP, Boren said.

The path forward is not entirely clear, and Oklahoma lawmakers predicted negotiations may last almost until Christmas.

Lankford and Cole said the Democratic plan to raise taxes on the wealthy to fund the payroll tax cut is not going to pass in the Republican-controlled House.

“That's redistribution of wealth to say, ‘This group makes too much money so we're going to take it from that group and give it to these people,'” Lankford said.

But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nevada, called the House package, which includes the Keystone XL pipeline, a “partisan joke that has no chance of passing the Senate.”

Reid said House Republican leaders “had to entice their members into supporting their proposal by weighing it down with a laundry list of policies whose sole purpose are scoring points against President Obama.”

Cole said he expects an agreement will ultimately be reached to extend the payroll tax cut and long-term unemployment benefits for another year.

“When the objectives are the same, you can find a way to get there,” he said.

“I think everybody feels like we need to get some things done, get through the elections and see what the American people want to do.”

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The payroll tax divide

Last year, Congress and President Barack Obama agreed to reduce the payroll tax that funds Social Security from 6.2 percent to 4.2 percent for a year, giving the average family $1,000 more in take-home pay. That cut is set to expire on Dec. 31.

Obama wants the tax cut extended for another year and he wants another extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which can last 99 weeks in some states.

Senate Democrats have proposed reducing the payroll tax to 3.1 percent for 2012. They would replace the money lost to the Social Security Trust Fund by imposing a 1.9 percent surcharge on income over $1 million. Their bill also includes an extension of unemployment benefits.

House Republicans have introduced a package that would retain the tax cut at 4.2 percent and replace the lost Social Security money by freezing federal worker pay, cutting some funding for the 2010 health care law and introducing more means testing in Medicare. They would also extend unemployment benefits, though they would gradually reduce the amount of weeks granted to 59 for most states.

The Republican bill also includes a provision that would require Obama to make a decision within 60 days on the proposed pipeline to carry oil from Alberta, Canada through Oklahoma to the Texas Gulf Coast.


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