US Republican lawmakers faced a torrent of political pressure and media scorn Wednesday after triggering an uproar by blocking a compromise plan to extend a tax break for 160 million Americans.
The conservative editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, normally a bastion of support for House of Representatives Republicans, branded the episode a "fiasco" that could end up reelecting President Barack Obama.
Publicly, House Republican leaders stuck to their guns despite taking on heavy political fire, insisting that the Senate return from its vacation to work out a new compromise to unpick the pre-Christmas imbroglio.
"We are here, we are trying to go to work," said Republican House Speaker John Boehner, repeating a call for the Senate to follow his lead in appointing negotiators to reach an agreement on a joint approach.
Boehner met key lieutenants in his suite of offices in a US Capitol which was largely deserted apart from tour groups, underscoring the increasing isolation of the Republican caucus in the House.
Democratic Senate Majority leader Harry Reid has refused to recall his members, after passing a compromise hammered out with Republicans in his chamber which was reportedly initially backed by Boehner.
If the tax cut is not extended by January 1, payroll tax deductions, which are separate from income tax, will go up from 4.2 percent to 6.2 percent in a move Obama says will hurt a "fragile" recovery.
The hike would cost the average American $1000 over the course of 2012.
Additionally, around two million people also stand to lose federally funded unemployment benefits.
The Senate bill would extend the payroll tax by two months, to allow time for the details of how to pay for a year-long tax holiday to be agreed.
But the House is insisting on a year-long extension immediately.
Reid told Boehner in a letter on Wednesday that he would be glad to recall Senate negotiators to seek a compromise -- but only if the House reversed course and backed the bipartisan plan that passed the Senate 89-10.
"Because we have a responsibility to assure middle-class families that their taxes will not go up while we work out our differences, we must pass this immediate extension first," Reid wrote.
Democrats were milking the discomfort of Republicans for all it was worth, as Obama delayed joining his wife and daughters in his native Hawaii for his annual Christmas holiday vacation.
The president called Boehner and asked him to recall the House to pass the Senate plan, an option that could lead to an outright revolt among Tea Party conservative members of his caucus.
Steny Hoyer, a senior member of the House Democratic leadership accused Republicans of holding 160 million Americans "hostage."
The White House also whipped up public interest by asking Americans to say on email and Twitter how they would use the extra $40 a month a family earning $50,000 could expect under the tax holiday extension.
"I can buy lunch from the cafeteria for almost a whole month for my twins," said one respondent, an L.A. Hamden of Connecticut.
"To some people $40 is nothing, but $40 is big money for us."
But it is the scorn of Republican senators and outlets like the Journal that may convince House leaders to find a face-saving way out.
Senator Bob Corker joined the growing number of his peers to criticize his fellow Republicans in the House over their handling of the issue, despite saying the House policy approach was better than the Senate's.
"Probably the best thing to happen now is just to get it over with -- one more public policy blunder -- and move on," Croker told CNBC.
"The House is right on this ... (but) they are losing the public opinion battle. It will get done in a pretty clumsy way."
The Journal questioned whether the whole affair might so damage Republicans that it "might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest."
"Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter," the paper said.
"The entire exercise is political, but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics."
Source: AFP American Edition