(CNN) – Two top Republican lawmakers said Wednesday they don't support extending a payroll tax cut as a way to stimulate the economy -an idea the White House is weighing– because they don't believe it helped create jobs and that money is needed to shore up Social Security and Medicare.
Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tennessee, and Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas, who both hold GOP leadership positions, told reporters that the current high unemployment rate is proof that short-term stimulus programs, like the payroll tax reduction, don't work.
"I don't sense how this move will install the confidence that small businesses in east Texas and Fortune 50 companies are going to need to take care of the Obama employment gap," Hensarling said.
"We don't need short term gestures, we need long term strategies that build into our system simpler taxes, lower taxes, fewer mandates, lower costs, lower energy costs, more certainty," Alexander said.
The White House said Tuesday it might ask Congress to extend the expiring reduction in an effort to stimulate job growth.
Also Wednesday, negotiations led by Vice President Biden to raise the country's debt ceiling ended with lawmakers saying they were making good progress but were still at least two to three weeks away from an agreement.
"I think our hope would be to wrap up these meetings by the end of the month but again I don't think we have a hard deadline, that's a goal," said Rep. Chris Van Hollen, D-Maryland, who is taking part in the talks. Van Hollen declined to discuss the specifics of the discussions and refused to say if extending the payroll tax cut came up in their meeting.
Sen. John Kyl of Arizona, one of the Republicans in the talks, was equally mum about what the negotiators discussed. He said the end of the month deadline is "an aspirational date, a goal, a target."
"But there's just a huge amount of work," he said.
Meantime, Democratic senators held a press conference to highlight a vote Tuesday in which more than 33 Republicans voted in favor of eliminating tax breaks for the ethanol industry.
Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called it a "watershed moment" because Republicans are usually wary of voting to raise any taxes.
"It means tax expenditures are now fair game in the ongoing deficit reduction talks," he said. "These Republicans broke with right wing interest groups that have sought to protect all forms of taxpayers subsidies no matter if they are necessary or not."
Alexander, who voted to end the ethanol subsidy, said his staff is scouring the tax code for wasteful tax expenditures, especially in the energy sector.
"I think getting rid of unwarranted tax breaks is a good idea," Alexander said. "We have $1.2 trillion in tax expenditures and some of them aren't justified and they're adding to the debt."
However, Hensarling said House Republicans would only support changes – such as eliminating the ethanol credit - as part of a broad tax reform effort.
"We believe the tax code needs to be made fairer, simpler, flatter and that would include cleaning out tax breaks like ethanol," the conservative lawmaker said. "We do not believe particularly at this time in our nation's economic history that we need to have tax increases."