Wrong Move, Boehner

We discussed yesterday our thoughts that House Republicans were making a massive strategic error in rejecting a Senate compromise to extend the payroll tax cut. Today, even the conservative Wall Street Journal (subscription required) is wondering what the hell the GOP is thinking:

If Republicans didn’t want to extend the payroll tax cut on the merits, then they should have put together a strategy and the arguments for defeating it and explained why.

But if they knew they would eventually pass it, as most of them surely believed, then they had one of two choices. Either pass it quickly and at least take some political credit for it…

…At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation. Wisconsin freshman Senator Ron Johnson has been floating a useful agenda for such a strategy. The alternative is more chaotic retreat and the return of all-Democratic rule.

Meanwhile, MSNBC outlined in its “First Read” three reasons why Republicans won’t win this battle:

Reason #1: House Republicans allowed the Senate to break for the Christmas holiday without explicit orders it would need to come back. In fact, Politico notes that the silence from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is deafening. Reason #2: The Senate passed its legislation by a bipartisan 89-10 vote, raising the question whether a conference committee could produce a deal that could get 60-plus Senate votes. Reason #3: The House GOP didn’t allow an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, suggesting that it could have passed if they did. Those three reasons will be hard for the House GOP to explain away if the tax cut expires after Dec. 31.

We’ll repeat again what we wrote yesterday: The message that will be received by voters is that House Republicans blocked a Senate plan to cut taxes for the middle class.

The Journal seems to think that this GOP mistake may mark the beginning of the end of control of the House. We’ll have to wait to see if House Speaker John Boehner comes up with some last-minute duct tape here, but we can definitely see looking back at this a year from now as a turning point for Republican fortunes in 2012.

Given that Republicans enjoyed the biggest congressional victory since 1948 only two years ago, the swift reversal of their momentum is really quite breathtaking.

Boehner, Republicans Roll Dice on Middle Finger to Middle Class

Republicans in the House today rejected a Senate-approved payroll tax deal. As Politico reports:

With a tax hike looming for 160 million Americans on New Year’s Day, House Republicans rejected a Senate plan to extend the payroll tax holiday for two months and instead called for a conference committee to hammer out the differences between the House and Senate.

The 229-193 partisan vote capped a wild few days of legislating and sends a message that Congress has chosen partisan stalemate over finding a quick solution before taxes go up and unemployment benefits go away for millions.

House Republicans, who were taken aback by the overwhelmingly bipartisan 89-10 Senate vote on the two-month extension, are trying to force the Senate to convene an old fashioned conference committee and somehow forge agreement on a full one-year extension of the payroll tax cut. But Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he will not negotiate until the House passes a two-month extension.

Democrats quickly cried foul over the House rejection of the proposal. Democratic Rep. Ed Perlmutter issued the following statement:

“Once again, Tea Party Republicans are playing games with Americans because they want to block the President’s agenda.  Because of their irresponsible actions, 160 million Americans face a tea party tax increase in the New Year, and 48 million senior citizens may lose access to their doctors.  This is no way to run a business, a family and certainly not our nation.  Every day Republicans engage in these kinds of games is a lost opportunity to create jobs.”

Yesterday our friends at “The Fix” questioned the political logic of House Speaker John Boehner on an issue that is very popular with middle class voters — and we don’t disagree:

What House Republicans are doing amounts to a political high wire act without a net. In a recent Associated Press-GfK national poll, nearly six in ten Americans said they wanted the payroll tax cut extended including 54 percent of self-described conservative Republicans.

“As sloppy as things look so far, House Republicans believe their arguments about job creation will win out over Democratic talking points on process and Reid’s refusal to even negotiate,” said Eric Ueland, former chief of staff to then Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.).

Owning that failure, however, could be a devastating blow for a party who is still adjusting to its new majority in the House – and hoping to take control of the Senate and the White House next November.

Already, the public seems inclined to blame Republicans for the lack of major accomplishments by this Congress. In a recent Pew poll, 50 percent of people said this Congress has accomplished less than previous ones; of that group 40 percent said Republican leaders were more to blame while 23 percent blamed Democratic leaders more.

It seems to us that House Republicans are badly overplaying any hand that they think they have here. They can argue about the logic of a two-month reprieve over a longer-term proposal, but those are details that will be lost to the average voter. The message that will be received is that House Republicans blocked a Senate plan to cut taxes for the middle class. Slice that up any way you like — there’s no version where it comes out looking good for the GOP.

Coffman Raising Big Bucks, Changing CD6 Outlook

As Lynn Bartels reported in her blog at the Denver newspaper, Rep. Mike Coffman raised more than $800,000 for the NRCC thanks to a visit from House Speaker “Orange” John Boehner.

Coffman’s fundraising could be a big problem for Democratic challenger Joe Miklosi, who scraped together just $130,000 in the third quarter reporting period. Miklosi has about $96,000 cash on hand, compared to $602,000 for Coffman — and that was before his take (whatever it is) of the Boehner event last weekend.

Miklosi’s hopes at defeating Coffman hinge on redistricting that would make CD-6 more competitive, but ironically, that same redistricting could also create a competitive Democratic primary. Miklosi’s fairly weak fundraising numbers, coupled with Coffman’s strong fundraising, will likely have Democrats on the lookout for another candidate should CD-6 end up in a map with Adams County and Aurora, rather than South Jefferson and Douglas Counties.

Obama Drops Compromise, Prepares to Fight on Budget and Jobs

Looks like somebody finally started reading the polls. Our friends at “The Fix” report on President Obama’s speech this morning rolling out his budget plan:

In a remarkable act of political gauntlet-throwing, President Obama castigated House Speaker John Boehner for his approach to reducing the country’s deficit, called on Members of Congress to do what’s “right” when it comes to debt reduction and issued a veto threat if a bill that does not meet his standards comes to his desk.

Obama’s speech, which was ostensibly aimed at previewing his deficit reduction plan, spent far more time – and rhetorical energy – on shaping the lines of the political fight to come. “This is not class warfare, it’s math,” Obama said in response to early Republican critiques of his proposal. At another point he said that GOP members should be “called out” for signing a pledge not to raise taxes ever.

But Obama saved his choicest words for Boehner. Obama said the Speaker had “walked away from a balanced package” during the debt-ceiling negotiations and added that Boehner’s approach to debt reduction was “not smart…it’s not right”…

…Obama has given over the idea of being the compromiser-in-chief – the prevailing sentiment of the first eight months of 2011 – in favor of taking the fight to Republicans and forcing them to respond in kind or feel the political consequences.

You Can’t Make This Up: House Stops Debt Debate to Name Post Offices

If you thought the messaging troubles for the Republicans couldn’t get any worse…you were wrong. As ABC News reports, House Republicans managed to figure out a way to make themselves look even worse on the night that they failed to even call a vote on the debt ceiling:

Despite what some government officials have billed as a possible financial Armageddon looming four days away and with no viable deal yet reached to raise the debt ceiling, lawmakers took a break from the debt debate Thursday night.

What did they turn to? Post offices.

Eight post office naming bills came to the House floor just two days after the U.S. Postal Service announced its plans to close nearly 3,700 post offices this year in order to deal with its $8.3 billion budget deficit.

Yes, that looks really, really bad. But the good news is that it doesn’t look quite as bad as this:

So far this year, almost 50 bills to rename post offices have been introduced. Three of those bills have made it to the president’s desk, representing a full 13 percent of all legislation signed by President Obama this year. [Pols emphasis]

Throughout the previous legislative session, the 111th Congress introduced 427 bills to name post offices and passed more than 70 of them.

That’s right — a Republican majority in the House of Representatives has managed in seven months to do little else besides naming post offices. Incapable of governing? It’s getting harder and harder for Republicans to say anything otherwise.

Boehner’s Career May Hinge on Friday Vote (If There is a Vote)

Speaker of the House John Boehner was not able to corral Republicans on Thursday in time for a vote on his debt ceiling/deficit plan. The vote is now supposed to happen on Friday, and the stakes may never be higher for Boehner.

From Salon:

It is still, at this point, nearly inconceivable that Boehner’s bill could go down in flames. Because if it does, intransigent House conservatives will have handed President Obama one of the biggest victories of his term.

Here’s why: The Boehner bill is already a conservative bill that won’t pass the Senate. But if House Republicans can’t pass it on their own, they will have conclusively demonstrated that it will be impossible for them to come to agreement on any kind of compromise deal acceptable to both parties. They will have effectively declared themselves incapable of governing. [Pols emphasis]

In that situation, President Obama would have foolproof political cover to take dramatic action, such as declaring the debt ceiling unconstitutional under the grounds of the 14th Amendment, or simple “necessities of state.” If the House can’t pass the speaker’s own bill, with the entire nation (and the world) watching, with Wall Street on edge, and most amazingly of all, already having secured a deal that includes significant spending cuts without any revenue increases, House Republicans will be exposed as both irresponsible and incompetent.

This kind of thing just doesn’t happen. It is very very rare for the majority party to bring a major bill to the floor without knowing how the votes will go down. The last time, in fact, is seared into our cultural memory: the failed vote on TARP that set off a major market meltdown.

But that wasn’t Speaker Pelosi’s fault. On that infamous day, John Boehner failed to deliver his caucus. If history repeats itself, Washington will be a different town, and Boehner will be a neutered political leader. And those of us who lived through this period will wonder how in the world this man managed to hold the U.S. government hostage for so long, when he couldn’t even control his own party. [Pols emphasis]

Senate Vows Quick Defeat of Boehner Plan–Reid Plan Next?

UPDATE #2: House Republicans postpone a vote on the debt ceiling. From MSNBC:

Earlier in the day, in a closed-door GOP meeting, Boehner, R-Ohio, made headway in securing the 217 votes necessary to pass his plan. No Democrats were expected to support it. Boehner told the Republicans he expected to round up enough votes but was not there yet.

“But today is the day,” he said, according to people in the room.

Today is Thursday, and is not “the day,” apparently. Maybe Friday is “the day.”


UPDATE: Politico reporting that the vote in the House on John Boehner’s plan has been delayed–but “will still be held Thursday evening.” Trouble getting those votes in line?


CBS News updates on the next debt-ceiling chess moves:

The Republican-led House will vote on Boehner’s plan in the late afternoon. It’s unclear whether the speaker will have enough support in his caucus to pass the measure, which would increase the U.S. borrowing limit by up to $900 billion while cutting more than $900 billion in spending over the next decade.

With one Democrat out for health reasons today, Boehner needs 216 votes to pass his bill and can afford to lose 24 Democrats. In the early afternoon, CBS News tallied at least 17 Republicans who will vote against it and nine who are leaning against it. Fifty were undecided.

If the bill does pass, Reid said today he would take it to the Senate floor for a vote immediately — where the Democratic majority will reject it…

The Senate Democratic caucus sent a letter to House Republicans Wednesday night informing them that all 51 Senate Democrats and two Democratic-voting independents are prepared to vote against the plan. Reid has put forward his own plan, which could cut around $2 trillion in debt and raise the debt ceiling at least through the end of 2012, but it’s unclear if or when the Senate will vote…

Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet of Colorado are both reportedly willing to pass the “Reid Plan”–as we’ve discussed, a deficit reduction deal that sacrifices a Democratic goal of additional revenue in exchange for sparing Social Security and Medicare. Both would rather be voting on something closer to the goals of the Bowles/Simpson deficit reduction commission, or the related “Gang of Six” plan that includes both cuts and increased revenue. Or something even better aligned with Democratic goals of protecting social programs and raising revenue to reduce the deficit with less harm–but that’s not the hand they’re likely to be dealt at this point.

With the clock ticking, it’s quickly going to come down to the least imperfect solution; and Reid’s plan may emerge as the most politically defensible way forward left to either side.

Boehner Between Rock and Hard Stuff

We’ve been saying for months that the Tea Party is killing Republicans, and there’s no better current example of that problem than the one that faces Speaker of the House John Boehner. From CNN:

Norm Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research, said Boehner “has a big headache inside his own caucus.”

“You’ve got senior members like Jim Jordan of Ohio, the head of the Republican Study Committee … which is the kind of conservative caucus about 40 years ago. It was a fringe group, a small fraction of the Republican Party. Now, it’s 80%,” he said.

Jordan came out against Boehner’s plan, saying that although he thanks him for fighting for GOP principles, “I cannot support the plan.”

Jordan and 38 other House Republicans have signed a pledge that he will not vote to raise the debt ceiling if aspects of the cut, cap and balance bill that passed the House last week aren’t included in the plan. Boehner admitted that his plan is “built on the principles” of that plan but doesn’t go as far as that bill would.

Chris Chocola, president of the conservative group Club for Growth, said Tuesday that his group cannot back Boehner’s plan.

“The Boehner plan does not achieve the goals of cut, cap and balance and doesn’t fix our fiscal mess,” he said. “We are urging club members to call their members of Congress and ask them to oppose it.”

The Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition, which includes more than 100 groups, argued that it understands the pressure on Boehner and congressional leaders to get a deal done before August 2 but said they should not exclude the cut, cap and balance bill. [Pols emphasis]

That last sentence is rich — basically the Cut, Cap and Balance Coalition is saying to Boehner, “We know you have a difficult decision to make, and we respect that…but you’d better do what we want.” Thanks for the support, everyone!

Obama Calls Boehner, Reid to White House for Budget Talks

The latest on a looming government shutdown from Politico:

House Speaker John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid are headed back to the White House Thursday afternoon to continue budget negotiations, which Reid says have stalled over abortion and clean air add-ons.

Congressional leaders and President Barack Obama have until midnight Friday to agree on billions in budget cuts and strike a deal on the hot-button social riders, a goal all three players say they want to reach, but a heavy-lift with 36 hours to go.

The GOP has been working overtime to blame Democrats for any possible shutdown, while Democrats say that Boehner is being held hostage by the right wing of his conference, that wants deeper cuts and social issues tacked on.

At stake are the real-world consequences of a inoperable government, including potentially unpaid furloughs for 800,000 workers, alongside political consequences for both parties.

Reid said Thursday he’s “not nearly as optimistic” about reaching a deal as he was last night because Boehner’s emphasis has shifted from a spending-cut target. [Pols emphasis]

We’ve said it again and again, folks. Republicans made their bed with the Tea Party all cozy right next to them, and now there’s no good way out of it for Boehner and friends. Republicans will try to blame a shutdown on Democrats, but that gets harder as Tea Party activists openly call for a shutdown to happen.

It’s starting to look like no matter what happens, there’s no real “win-win” scenario for Republicans.