(CNN) – One day after the Senate voted 89-10 in favor of a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut, two senators argued Sunday about whether the House of Representatives wanted to move forward on the legislation.
On CNN’s “State of the Union,” Sen. Robert Menendez, D-New Jersey, accused House Republicans of playing politics and “itching for a fight with Democrats in the White House” while they undermined tax relief provided in the Senate measure.
In response, Republican Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who spent 14 years as a House member before winning a Senate seat in 2010, said he was unable to explain a disconnect between the Republican leadership in the House and Senate on the Senate plan.
While Senate Republican leaders voted for the two-month payroll tax cut extension, House Speaker John Boehner rejected the plan Sunday.
Noting he would assume a Senate leadership role in January, Blunt told CNN Political Correspondent Joe Johns that he heard from former House colleagues who “don’t want to do this” because they like their own bipartisan version of a one-year payroll tax cut extension.
“I don’t know what Republicans in the House are saying they’re itching for a fight,” Blunt said in response to the accusation by Menendez. “I think what they’re saying they wanted was the one-year tax extension they paid for.”
For Menendez, the House version would pay for the tax cut extension by “taking money from the middle class to give it to the middle class.”
“In the House version, they take money from middle class families in Medicare, they take money from middle class families in health care, they take money from middle class civil servants,” he said in reference to provisions in the measure.
Menendez added that he’d “love to see a year” of tax cut extensions, but insisted Republicans had to “stop fighting for millionaires and billionaires” so that both the House and Senate could come to an agreement.
Blunt accused Menendez of simply wanting to increase taxes as part of any package, but acknowledged that the House bill was “not as bipartisan as the Senate vote.”
Political gridlock has been largely unpopular and congressional approval ratings have plummeted in response to bipartisan bickering, with only 11% of respondents saying they approve of Congress in a recent CBS News poll.
Menendez blamed the poor ratings on Republicans taking “a greater pound of flesh” from the middle class. For Blunt, both chambers are “almost totally dysfunctional” because “the president’s obligation to lead has not been met.”
Blunt also noted that “the Congress, as an institution, will not be on the ballot next year - the president of the United States will be.”