WASHINGTON — Deep rifts among House Republicans over a payroll tax break became evident Friday as rank-and-file members of the caucus told their leaders that they did not want to extend the cut in Social Security taxes for another year, as demanded by President Obama.
Given the effort Democrats are making to capitalize on the issue, Speaker John A. Boehner warned Republicans they would run political risks and could be accused of allowing a tax increase if they blocked the continuation of payroll tax relief set to expire at the end of the year. Lawmakers coming out of the caucus meeting Friday said they had had a spirited debate.
"Most people standing up to speak were troubled" by legislation to extend the payroll tax cut, said Rep. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona. "There was a divide between the rank and file and the leadership."
In December 2010, Congress temporarily reduced the employee's share of the Social Security payroll tax by 2 percentage points, to 4.2 percent of wages. If Congress does nothing, the rate will revert to 6.2 percent in January.
Obama, at an appearance on Friday with former President Bill Clinton to promote energy efficiency, suggested Congress should delay its holiday adjournment if the impasse on the payroll tax cut was not resolved.
"I expect that it's going to get done before Congress leaves," Obama said. "Otherwise Congress may not be leaving, and we can all spend Christmas here together."
Republican leaders said they would address their members' concerns, as part of a legislative package that would also include an extension of jobless benefits for the long-term unemployed and a measure to spare doctors from a 27 percent cut in their Medicare reimbursements, scheduled to occur on Jan. 1.