Baucus Named to Panel Sorting Out Payroll Tax Deal

By Beacon Staff

HELENA – U.S. Sen. Max Baucus is again getting into the center of the hottest debate in Washington D.C. with an appointment to the congressional conference committee charged with sorting out partisan differences over the payroll tax deal.

Congress wrapped up a proposal Thursday to extend a payroll tax cut for workers for another 60 days. It gives lawmakers time to negotiate a full-year extension both sides say they want — amid big differences over the details.

Baucus, who played a role last week in ensuring the Senate version of the bill also called for a quick decision on the Keystone XL pipeline, was named to the panel Thursday by Democratic Senate leader Harry Reid. Baucus, accustomed to getting a seat at the negotiating table, was also on the pre-Thanksgiving deficit-reduction supercommittee that failed to reach a deal.

He said “time is of the essence” in reaching a compromise bill with a yearlong payroll tax cut extension.

“I’m glad cooler heads prevailed yesterday and that folks passed the two-month bipartisan compromise for our families and for the jobs that depend on it,” Baucus said in a statement. “We have more work ahead of us to make sure our economy continues to grow, and this is just one step in that process.”

The state’s entire delegation played a role in the payroll tax legislation.

U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg originally pushed for inclusion of the pipeline on the House side. U.S. Sen. Jon Tester then attached language in the Senate that he says ensures the pipeline provision does not infringe on private property rights.

Rehberg, a Republican, and Tester, a Democrat, are also engaged in a fierce 2012 election battle. The two have exchanged barbs through the payroll tax deal brouhaha — jabs that continued after Thursday’s passage.

Rehberg praised the pipeline deal that forces a decision on the pipeline from the Obama administration within 60 days. But he called it “shameful” that the Senate compromise only offers a temporary solution on the payroll tax.

“This short term extension was wrong for Montana last week and it’s wrong for them today,” he said in a statement.

Tester criticized the GOP-controlled House that rejected the Senate deal early in the week, a move that allowed Democratic leaders to claim victory after the House capitulated Thursday.

“It’s too bad it took public pressure to undo another irresponsible decision that should have never been made in the first place,” Tester said in a release. “I’m pleased the party bosses in the House are finally on board with our plan for supporting tax relief for middle-class families and the Montana jobs that will come with the Keystone XL pipeline.”

The deal buys time for the talks on a one-year extension and will keep in place a 2 percentage point cut in the Social Security payroll tax worth about $20 a week for a worker making $50,000 a year. It also prevents almost 2 million unemployed people from losing jobless benefits, and gives doctors a reprieve from a 27 percent cut in their Medicare payments.