Reid, for now, won’t play Boehner’s game

After the Senate approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax break, 89 to 10, the upper chamber not only assumed the House would be responsible, it also announced it’s done until January. This morning, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) said that won’t do — the Senate, he said, has to come back, get ready for more compromising, and make House Republicans happy.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) issued a statement this afternoon suggesting Boehner has limited options.

“My House colleagues should be clear on what their vote means today. If Republicans vote down the bipartisan compromise negotiated by Republican and Democratic leaders, and passed by 89 senators including 39 Republicans, their intransigence will mean that in ten days, 160 million middle class Americans will see a tax increase, over two million Americans will begin losing their unemployment benefits, and millions of senior citizens on Medicare could find it harder to receive treatment from physicians.

“Senator McConnell and I negotiated a compromise at Speaker Boehner’s request. I will not re-open negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders, and supported by 90 percent of the Senate.

“This is a question of whether the House of Representatives will be able to fulfill the basic legislative function of passing an overwhelmingly bipartisan agreement, in order to protect the economic security of millions of middle-class Americans. Democratic and Republican leaders negotiated a compromise and Speaker Boehner should not walk away from it, putting middle-class families at risk of a thousand-dollar tax hike just because a few angry Tea Partiers raised their voices to the Speaker.”

As for Boehner’s demand that policymakers work on a year-long extension, instead of a two-month extension, Reid said Democrats would continue to work on this goal, just as soon as the House approves this short-term measure and gives policymakers time to work on a new agreement. Another Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer, said something similar on MSNBC earlier.

Senate Dems, in other words, are trying to, in effect, “jam” House Republicans — they passed a bill and left, giving the lower chamber a choice between passing the Senate bill or raising taxes on 160 million Americans.

Complicating matters a bit, some Senate Republicans are siding with Dems on this, telling House Republicans to cut the nonsense and pass the extension.

The next move will probably be a House vote on the Senate bill, which Republican leaders expect to fail. Indeed, that’s largely the point — they’re bringing it to the floor so GOP members can kill it and send a message to the Senate that the bipartisan compromise isn’t far enough to the right.

I haven’t seen any head counts on this, but it’s worth watching to see if the Senate bill sneaks past the finish line anyway. Greg Sargent reports that the House Democratic leadership has sent a letter to its members, “urging them to vote for the measure in ‘overwhelming’ numbers.”

This matters. Remember, there are 192 Democrats in the House, and the bill needs 218 votes to go to the White House to be signed. If all, or nearly all, Dems support the deal struck in the Senate, it would only need 26 or so House Republicans to break ranks.

The alternative is House Republicans killing a bipartisan compromise on a middle-class tax cut, which just passed the Senate 89 to 10, six days before Christmas. Are there 26 GOP lawmakers in the House willing to do the responsible thing? If I had to guess, I’d say no, but if they appear, this mess could be resolved fairly quickly.