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.

Republicans Prepare to Punt Budget Ball to Obama

As the Los Angeles Times reports:

A plan by the Senate’s two top leaders to allow President Obama to raise the debt limit without congressional approval is emerging as the most likely strategy to avoid a looming federal default…

…Conservatives, particularly in the House, seem likely to oppose it. But with efforts to deliver a larger deficit-reduction deal still at a stalemate, the new plan – which builds on a proposal put forward earlier in the week by McConnell – could provide a way out of a dead end that has become politically and economically perilous.

Republicans seem content at this point to let President Obama essentially make the decision on the budget/debt ceiling debate. The GOP appears convinced that letting Obama play the adult in the room will somehow make them look better to voters, despite recent polling indicating that most Americans are holding Republicans responsible for the lack of progress thus far. By a more than 2-to-1 margin, Americans also continue to blame former President George Bush — and not Obama — for the nation’s economic woes.

With all of that in mind, could someone explain the logic here?

Under the emerging proposal, Obama would be able to order increases in the debt ceiling on his own, without congressional approval. Congress would vote on legislation to block an increase, but if such a resolution passed, as is likely, Obama would veto it. If the veto were sustained by Congress, the debt limit would be increased.

Republican strategists think that scenario would force Obama to take full political responsibility for the rising national debt, a prospect that White House spokesman Jay Carney said Obama could live with.

“The president is willing to take responsibility for leading, and he is willing to do what it takes to compromise to reach something significant, and he is willing to own it, if other people won’t.”

Obviously Republicans are quietly hoping that Obama’s decisions will fail so that they can scream about how nobody listened to them, or something. But it’s hard to point fingers when you publicly removed yourself from the debate. Even if this plan fails and the economy gets worse, Republicans will still be open to attacks that they did nothing to help. After all, it’s really hard to put a spin on a decision to do nothing; right or wrong, at least Obama will be in control of his own message.

Perhaps Republicans just see this as the only option to get out of their own way on the debt ceiling while not angering a Tea Party base that is forever threatening Primary challenges for those deemed insufficiently obstinate. But we don’t see how sitting on their hands will help Republicans with General Election voters, and specifically with Independent voters. We’ve thought for awhile now that Republicans were backing themselves into a corner here; they may finally be surrounded — by each other.