Cardin’s wife surprised by White House call in middle of night

Maryland Sen. Ben Cardin on Thursday signed off on a deal to extend the payroll tax cut and unemployment benefits, a critical holdout to get the deal done, but it didn’t come until some heavy pressure from on high.

Cardin recounted Thursday how Obama administration officials evidently did not know Cardin stayed up on Capitol Hill until the wee hours of the morning Thursday, so they tried reaching him at his home in Baltimore during the night to try to persuade him to support the $150 billion deal.

They called a phone line that Cardin said isn’t normally used at his house so that he could have an opportunity to discuss the deal with President Obama.

“No one has that number” — or so he and his wife thought, he said. “At first, my wife didn’t believe it was the president,” he said, not indicating whether Obama was actually on the other end of the line when she picked up or whether an Obama aide was trying to connect the senator and the president.

Cardin’s wife, Myrna, told the White House caller that her husband was still at work. The call was then made to the senator in his Hart office building.

A battle-weary Cardin, running on about three hours of sleep on Thursday, withheld details of the call, but a senior Senate Democratic leadership aide said White House Director of Legislative Affairs Rob Nabors was monitoring the progress of talks Wednesday, and “it just became apparent that a call was necessary.”

Cardin made clear to reporters early Thursday, before he signed off on the deal, that while he supported the changes made Wednesday night to shift the payment for the payroll tax cut deal to require new federal government hires to contribute more to their pension plans, he felt “unemployment benefits should not be paid for” with budget cuts or revenue increases.

In the end, the deal requires new hires to pay 2.3 percent of their salary to their pensions. Cardin’s vote was critical as the three Senate Republicans conferring on the deal said they would oppose it. Since a majority of Senate conferees was needed, and there were four Democrats on the seven-member panel, Cardin was the tie-breaker.