New York Times
February 16, 2012

Making It Official, With a Smile

Of all the legislative events in Washington, lawmakers tend to enjoy when things get signed the most.

So with camera-ready smiles and a thumbs-up or two, most of the 20 members of a bipartisan Congressional committee that drew up a plan to extend a payroll tax holiday and unemployment benefits cheerfully showed up Thursday to sign their report.

One by one, the members filed into the office of the committee’s chairman, Representative Dave Camp, Republican of Michigan, to sign the papers splayed out on a large table under an ornate chandelier.

Reporters flocked to each member who entered the room like sparrows to seed-stocked feeders, looking for any final bits of wisdom on the tense negotiations that led to the bill, which House and Senate leaders hope to bring to the floors of their respective chambers by Friday.

“I think it was actually a healthy process,” said Representative Greg Walden, a Republican conferee from Oregon. “We need to do more of this.”

Mr. Camp and his chief negotiating partner, Senator Max Baucus, Democrat of Montana, linked hands for the cameras, as Mr. Baucus said helpfully for anyone who didn’t get the visual cue, “Working together!”

Not everyone was on board. The three Republican senators appointed to the committee – Jon Kyl of Arizona, Mike Crapo of Idaho and John Barrasso of Wyoming – had not signed the bill by midday.

Mr. Barrasso and some Republican aides said that the three members felt left out of the process of shaping the report and did not feel the need to sign it. A majority of signatures from both chambers was needed to get the job done, and all House Republicans signed it, as well as Democrats from both chambers.

Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, a Republican conferee, looked genuinely hurt, as if he had been stood up by a handful of people he had invited to dinner.

“They’ll be coming, right?” he asked Mr. Baucus as the two left the ornate room.

“Jon told me he’s not going to do it,” Mr. Baucus whispered back, apparently in reference to Mr. Kyl.

At a news conference, the House speaker, John A. Boehner, said he did not believe Senate Republicans had been left out. “They’ve been as involved in the process as anybody else,” he said, adding: “If I recall correctly, there were two or three public meetings where they were all present. So, for someone to say they weren’t involved really would surprise me.”

Under the roughly $150 billion agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators, the current reduction in employees’ share of the Social Security payroll tax — to 4.2 percent of wages, from 6.2 percent — would be continued to the end of the year. The deal also extends unemployment benefits, but reduces the maximum duration of benefits in states with high unemployment to 73 weeks, from the current 99. It also prevents a pay cut for doctors who accept Medicare. The unemployment benefits will be paid for in part by the sale of some radio spectrum licenses and changes to the pensions of federal workers.

While Mr. Boehner said the deal was “one that I support,” he did not express great love for it.

“Let’s be honest,” he said. “This is an economic relief package, not a bill that’s going to grow the economy and create jobs.”