House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) appears poised to win over reluctant rank-and-file Republicans who have opposed keeping the payroll tax break, which gives workers an additional $1,000 on average. To attract votes, the package was sweetened with GOP priorities -- key among them, a provision to advance the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The political victory for Boehner may be short-lived as President Obama has vowed to veto the measure, largely over the Keystone provision. But the package, which includes other must-pass legislation, could begin to shape a compromise with the Senate.
"The House is going to do its job and it's time for the Senate then to do its job," Boehner said Monday, as he announced he had the votes for passage. "I do believe it's going to pass with bipartisan support."
Boehner made a strategic move by attaching the Keystone project to the package, giving Republicans a chance to leverage Obama's payroll tax cut for a GOP priority, one that has also drawn support from a sizable number of Democrats. More than three dozen House Democrats voted to support the pipeline earlier this year.
Those backing the pipeline project say it is a "shovel ready" construction project, slicing through the country from Canada to the Gulf Coast, that will create jobs. Critics say it will increase the nation's dependence on carbon-based fuels and cause pollution.
The White House seized on the brinkmanship Monday, calling out Republicans for essentially holding a tax break for working Americans hostage to other priorities.
"We all need to step back and say, what happened to Republican support for tax cuts?" said White House Press Secretary Jay Carney. "They're so passionate about it when it comes to defending extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest earners.… But when it comes to most Americans who get a paycheck, who need that extra 1,000 bucks, or 1,550 bucks next year to make ends meet, they're like, ‘Well, not so much, unless I get this.'"
Democrats have little motivation to quickly resolve the issue, despite the approaching year-end deadline, as long as they believe they have a powerful narrative heading into the 2012 election.
Obama has fanned out on the campaign trail with the story line that Republicans have led efforts to keep taxes low for wealthy earners, including those tax rates approved during the George W. Bush administration, while refusing Obama's proposal to tax millionaires to pay for the worker tax break.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has begun running paid robocalls in 10 targeted Republican seats it hopes to flip in 2012.
"House Republicans are willing to leave for the holidays and force a $1,000 payroll tax increase on 160 million middle-class Americans, while fighting for billionaires and Big Oil," the ad says.
Even though the House bill is not expected to advance in the Senate, it could begin to lay the foundation for an eventual compromise.
Such a large package is attractive to the Senate, as lawmakers have little time remaining before holidays to pass other bills.
Boehner has offered a sweeping package that includes the payroll tax as well as an extension of long-term unemployment benefits, which also expire Dec. 31, and other items, including a rollback environmentalists oppose of air emission regulations on industrial boilers that emit mercury and other pollutants.
The GOP package does not pay for the costs by relying on the millionaire's tax, which Republicans reject, but proposes a mix of spending cuts and new fees that are not expected to generate insurmountable resistance among Democrats, even though they hit federal employees and make cuts to the nation's new healthcare law and other Democratic priorities.
Key to a compromise will be devising an endgame for the keystone project, which divides Democrats.
"At a time when many are without work, it is time that we come together in a bipartisan way to pass this legislation," said Democratic Rep. Dan Boren of Oklahoma in announcing his support for the GOP package Monday.
But Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) has criticized Republicans for adding the pipeline and the emissions deregulation provision to the package. "They should be serving the people, not the polluters," she said.
Still, even some Republicans are skeptical of the package Boehner has amassed, which could receive a cool reception by some.
"When you try to bring a package that's thousands of pages long, that's still hot from the Xerox machine, people should watch their wallets," said Republican Sen. Mark Kirk of Illinois.