‘The Speaker is … boxed in a corner’

The payroll tax cut will expire in 9 days and 16 hours unless House Republicans agree to pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise, and at this point, there’s no reason to believe that’s going to happen. The House GOP is under all kinds of pressure, but it hasn’t so much as hinted at giving in.

With this in mind, yesterday’s White House press briefing with Jay Carney featured a couple of interesting exchanges. One reporter argued, for example, that President Obama seems to have “no intention of negotiating.” The press secretary explained, “The negotiating has happened already…. This was a compromise worked out by the Republican leader in the Senate with the Democratic leader in the Senate, with the approval — in fact, even the instigation — of the Speaker of the House.”

It ultimately led to this back and forth between Carney and another reporter:

Q: Yesterday, the President said he needed the Speaker to do something. The Speaker said, “I need the President to do something.” My assumption would be the Speaker expected something more than a phone call. He was looking for something from the President as far as negotiations; you say there’s nothing to negotiate. The Speaker is in a corner, he’s boxed in a corner. Is the President going to do nothing to help the Speaker get out of that corner?

CARNEY: The President is doing everything he can to help the American people. The Speaker is very capable of helping himself by calling a vote on the Senate compromise, a compromise that received the support of 80 percent of the Republican senators and even a greater percentage of Democratic senators. There is a bipartisan compromise available to him as a lifesaver, if you will.

Q: But politically he’s in a box. Is there anything the President can do?

CARNEY: Well, I mean, honestly, the important thing here is not who’s up and who’s down politically because, as I talked about yesterday, we are beginning to see some positive signs in the economy. We are a long way from full economic recovery, but the last thing we need to do is fail to pass a payroll tax cut extension which would have a negative impact on the kind of economic growth that we have been seeing and need to continue to see. It’s just wrong at every level to prevent this from passing.

What I found fascinating about this is the notion that Obama should be helping Boehner. The poor Speaker of the House has found himself in a jam, and apparently the president should be a good sport and lend the guy a hand. How? Presumably by agreeing to compromise on the compromise.

I’m not sure who asked the question [Update: In comments, James points to this video and says the question came from ABC News’ David Wright.], but I hope someone will remind him that political disputes aren’t supposed to work this way. The White House and the House Republican leadership disagree on a policy, and the president hopes to see Boehner give in. That the Speaker is “is in a corner” and feels “boxed in” is … how do I put this gently … exactly what Obama wants to resolve the dispute.

Indeed, House GOP officials started the day under fire from their own allies, and this only got worse as the day progressed. By close of business, Karl Rove and Newt Gingrich both wanted to see the Speaker to cut his losses and accept the compromise, and Senate Republicans concluded that their House counterparts are on their own.

Questions from White House reporters notwithstanding, the next move should be House Republicans coming to their senses, not the president throwing Boehner a life-preserver.