Tuesday, December 27, 2011
U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., was appointed on Dec. 21 by House Speaker John Boehner R-Ohio, to serve as one of eight House "conferees" to renegotiate differing tax and unemployment insurance plans passed by the House and Senate.
Walden's appointment came as part of a last minute House rejection of a bipartisan Senate bill - a move largely viewed as a debacle by political pundits from both sides of the aisle.
By the late evening of Dec. 22 the skirmish between House Republicans and most other legislators had come to an end, with the House agreeing to pass the Senate bill in conjunction with a crafted compromise proposed by Republican Senator Mitch McConnell.
Walden has been a strong advocate for the House bill and is a close confidant to Boehner. He was selected to play a key role within those negotiations.
Following the Dec. 22 agreement, Boehner was quoted as saying, that the House Republicans' refusal to compromise on the short-term extension "may not be the smartest thing in this world ... but our members waged a good fight."
The Senate had earlier passed a hard-won bipartisan plan to extend expiring payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits for two months, allowing negotiators time to agree to a yearlong plan.
"Neither side got everything they wanted, but we forged a middle ground that passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., in a statement.
However, Boehner, who originally appeared to back the Senate bill, and his colleagues in the House including Walden, ultimately rejected that plan Dec. 20, scuttling a deal cut between the White House and Senate Republicans.
The newly-agreed Senate short-term extension plan will keep the payroll tax rate at the reduced 4.2 percent rate through February while other details of Obama's jobs plan could be negotiated.
If agreement had not been reached, the payroll tax rate would have reverted to 6.2 percent on Jan. 1 and long-term unemployment benefits will expire without an extension.
Early on Dec. 22, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., stepped in with what would become the compromise proposal.
McConnell's plan entails a House agreement to approve the Senate's two-month extension on the payroll tax cut with a simultaneous agreement from the Senate to begin immediate negotiations for a yearlong extension. Obama has also agreed to sign off on the the compromise.
President Obama, in a speech to in-home caregivers on Dec. 15, had urged the House to pass the Senate bill, saying, "Congress should not and cannot go on vacation before they have made sure that working families aren't seeing their taxes go up by $1,000 and those who are out there looking for work don't see their unemployment insurance expire."
The House's last-minute refusal to pass the Senate bill, as led by Boehner, forced renewed negotiations across the two houses of Congress right up to the Christmas holiday wire.
As the House Republican's initiated their last minute scuffle, Walden said in a press release, "I for one am glad the House is back in session this week working toward an agreement with the Senate on tax reductions and unemployment extension with reforms."
Walden's press release did not address the reported influence of tea party members on the House's decision to thwart the Senate bill.
According to a Dec. 21 article in the Associated Press, "House conservatives - including newcomers supported by the small government tea party movement - used a conference call" on Dec. 17 to express their objection of the measure.
"I've never seen us so unified," said Rep. Louie Gohmert, of Texas, as he left a two-hour, closed-door meeting Dec. 19, where Republicans firmed up their plans for the Tuesday Senate bill rejection.
According to the White House staff blog supporting the Senate bill payroll tax cut, the Obama administration stated, "If Congress fails to extend this tax cut, the typical family making $50,000 a year will have about $40 less to spend or save with each paycheck. Over the year, that adds up to about $1,000."
According to an article by Joseph Lazzaro in the International Business Times, "Most economists agree that a failure to pass the payroll tax reduction would lower U.S. GDP growth, as the reduction increases take-home income of working class and middle class employees - two groups likely to put the extra money to use quickly if not immediately, thereby stimulating economic activity.
"In all, about 160 million Americans would benefit from the payroll tax reduction extension, and most Americans would see a $750 to $1,500 annual tax increase without the reduction extension."
With the Dec. 22 agreement in place, Walden issued a follow-up statement saying, "We will continue to work hard toward a long term solution in January and February, and I am hopeful we can reach consensus on stronger policy for the American people - after all, that's what they sent us here to do in the first place."
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Lawnmower torches Arbor Vitae on Portland Drive
The riding lawn mower driven by Norma Cannon overheated and made contact with dry arbor vitae owned by Lee and Norma Curtis, sending more than a dozen of the tightly-packed trees up in flames. The mower, visible at far right, was totaled. No one was injured; neighbors first kept the fire at bay with garden hoses and Westside and Hood River Fire Departments responded and doused the fire before it reached any structures. Westside Fire chief Jim Trammell, in blue shirt, directs firefighters. The video was taken by Capt. Dave Smith of Hood River Fire Department. Enlarge