Top Democrat Criticizes GOP for Supporting Tax Cuts But Won’t Commit to New Spending Cuts in Fight Over Payroll Tax

By Matt Cover | November 29, 2011 | 2:48 PM EST

House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) (AP Photo)

( – House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) chastised the GOP for supporting tax cuts that supposedly contributed to higher deficits, but he would not say where Democrats were willing to cut spending to help bring deficits down.

“We [Democrats] believe in pay-for,” Hoyer said at his weekly press briefing on Tuesday. “Pay-for is discipline. Pay-for is tough to do. It is easy to cut taxes. It is easy to buy things for people that you don’t pay for. What’s tough is paying for things, and we need to pay for things.”

Congress is currently debating whether to extend a payroll tax holiday that expires on Dec. 31. Republicans support the tax cut but want to see a spending cut included so that an already-record deficit does not grow any further. Democrats want to continue the tax cut without cutting federal spending.

If Congress extends the tax cut, which lowered the individual payroll tax rate from 6.2 to 4.2 percent of wages, without an equivalent spending cut, the unpaid for spending would add hundreds of billions of dollars to the deficit. In 2011, the excess spending that would have been funded by payroll taxes added $117 billion to the deficit.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Hoyer and other House Democrats have said they are willing to work with Republicans on how to pay for an extension of the payroll tax holiday and the so-called Doc Fix to Medicare payment rates, known formally as the Strategic Growth Rate (SGR).

“Democrats are committed to working with you to identify appropriate savings over the long-term, once economic recovery has taken hold, to offset costs for extensions of the SGR fix and Payroll Tax holiday,” Hoyer, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), and Assistant Leader Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) wrote in a Nov. 22 letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio).

However, when asked on Tuesday whether Democrats would commit to any new spending cuts to accompany the policy extensions they want, Hoyer would not say. Instead, he suggested using higher taxes to pay for the Doc Fix, leaving out the payroll tax cut altogether.

“I don’t want to go to what specific pay-fors or categories that I would argue for,” Hoyer said at the briefing. “We believe that SGR needs to be paid for. I think it’s the simplest thing to pay for it is to have some additional revenues.”