The pieces were in place. Senate leads from both parties agreed to a temporary compromise that looked pretty sensible: Dems would get a two-month extension of the payroll tax break and a clean extension of unemployment benefits, while GOP lawmakers would get an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. It was quickly approved with overwhelming, bipartisan support, 89 to 10.
What about the House? Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) noted Saturday, “This is probably a done deal in the House; it should be.” None other than House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed relieved, calling the bipartisan compromise a “good deal” and a “victory.”
But Boehner then took this victory to his caucus, and as we’ve seen many times before, the Speaker quickly realized his job is to take, not give, orders from his right-wing members.
The House Republican leader on Sunday flatly rejected a short-term, bipartisan Senate measure to extend a payroll tax break and unemployment insurance, setting the stage for a bitter year-end Congressional collision and the potential loss of benefits for millions of Americans.
In an interview on “Meet The Press” on NBC, Speaker John A. Boehner said his members broadly opposed the two-month extension that passed the Senate 89 to 10, believing that it would be “just kicking the can down the road.”
Boehner added, “It’s pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill.”
Except, it’s not clear at all. Why is it, exactly, that Boehner called the compromise a “good deal” and a “victory” on Saturday, only to say he opposes the deal on Sunday? For that matter, as recently as Friday, the Speaker said he’d demand an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline as a condition for the payroll break. Democrats agreed to meet the demand, and Boehner’s House Republicans still won’t pass it.
Indeed, the House will likely take up the Senate deal later today, simply to prove it can’t pass the lower chamber. In the bigger picture, it’s pretty amazing: House Republicans are going to kill a bipartisan compromise on a middle-class tax cut, which just passed the Senate 89 to 10, the week before Christmas.
It’s worth emphasizing that the GOP’s new demands are coming into focus. Last week, Republicans wanted an expedited decision on Keystone. They got it. This week, Republicans are arguing that the payroll tax break, if it’s extended at all, should be extended for a year, not for two months.
For the record, I’d be delighted to see a one-year extension, and most congressional Democrats appear to agree. But since there are irreconcilable disagreements over financing, and time is running out, a temporary fix would give everyone some breathing room for additional talks.
But House Republicans have told their ostensible leader this just won’t do, and the bipartisan agreement that would send everyone home for the holidays has, as the NYT put it, “given way to chaos.”
If Americans find all of this ridiculous, they should have been a little more careful before the 2010 midterms.