WASHINGTON

- Top House Republicans rebelled yesterday against a bipartisan, Senate-approved bill extending payroll-tax cuts and jobless benefits for two months, reigniting a politically fueled holiday-season clash that had seemed all but doused.

The House GOP defiance cast uncertainty over how quickly Congress would forestall a tax increase otherwise heading straight at 160 million workers beginning New Year's Day. House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said it could be finished within two weeks, which suggested that lawmakers might have to spend much of their usual holiday break battling each other in the Capitol.

A day after rank-and-file House GOP lawmakers used a conference call to spew venom against the Senate-passed bill, Boehner said he opposed the legislation and wanted congressional bargainers to craft a new, year-long version.

"The president said we shouldn't be going anywhere without getting our work done," Boehner said on NBC's "Meet the Press," referring to President Obama's oft-repeated promise to postpone his Christmastime trip to Hawaii if the legislation was not finished. "Let's get our work done, let's do this for a year."

A spokeswoman for House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., said the House would vote today to request formal bargaining with the Senate for changes to make the legislation "responsible and in line with the needs of hard-working taxpayers and middle-class families."

Cantor spokeswoman Laena Fallon did not specify what those changes might be, beyond a longer-lasting bill.

Boehner, though, expressed support for "reasonable reductions in spending" in a House-approved payroll-tax bill.

Democrats leaped at what they saw as a chance to champion lower- and middle-income Americans by accusing Republicans of threatening a wide tax increase unless their demands are met.

If Congress doesn't act, workers would see their take-home checks cut by 2 percentage points beginning Jan. 1, when this year's 4.2 percent payroll tax reverts to its normal 6.2 percent.

"They should pass the two-month extension now to avoid a devastating tax hike from hitting the middle class in just 13 days," said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director.

"It's time House Republicans stop playing politics and get the job done for the American people."

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that by opposing the Senate bill, "Tea party House Republicans are walking away once again, showing their extremism and clearly demonstrating that they never intended to give the middle class a tax cut."