Passing a popular, middle-class tax cut really shouldn’t be this difficult.
Conditions looked pretty good on Saturday. The Senate easily passed a bipartisan compromise for a two-month extension of the payroll tax break, 89 to 10. The White House liked it; House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) liked it; and there was ample room for optimism.
Then the radicalized House Republican caucus decided to throw a tantrum. As of Sunday night, the New York Times noted that the deal that would send everyone home for the holidays had “given way to chaos.”
Yesterday, Capitol Hill was even more chaotic.
House Republicans entered the day with one goal in mind: kill a bipartisan compromise on a middle-class tax cut, the week before Christmas, without looking ridiculous. After days of meetings and delays, a broken promise to hold an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, and a surprising number of pot shots at their Senate Republican colleagues, the House GOP came up with a convoluted scheme. This accurate description of the new plan is likely to make your eyes glaze over:
Initially, the House Republicans planned to hold a standard vote on a “motion to concur” with the Senate tax cut extension…. But in a heated meeting of the Rules Committee that determines how votes are held, the motion was changed to a “motion to reject.”
What was originally scheduled to be three votes — a vote on the Senate bill, a vote to go into conference with the Senate to change the bill, and a vote on a nonbinding resolution relating to the debate — turned into one. The final rule that passed the committee, along party lines, allows for a single vote to reject a motion to agree with the Senate bill. If the motion is rejected, the bill is sent to a conference committee. […]
Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said a vote to reject the Senate bill and send it to conference is “exactly” the same as a vote to concur with the bill.
It is still “regular order” for the House to specifically vote to “reject” a bill versus holding an up-or-down vote on a bill, Dreier said. Anyone who supports the Senate bill can simply “vote in opposition to that motion to go to conference.”
The way House Republicans have set this up, those who vote “yes” are actually voting “no” on the bipartisan Senate compromise. In fact, under this scheme, the House will hardly be voting on the Senate version at all — Republicans know they’re inviting political trouble by rejecting a middle-class tax cut — and will instead be kinda sorta voting to send the competing versions of the payroll extension to conference committee.
And what’s wrong with that? In theory, this might sound reasonable — the House and Senate passed radically different bills on the same issue, so the standard operating procedure would be for a conference committee to work out a consensus bill that falls somewhere between the two.
But in this case, what’s theoretically reasonable is irrelevant. It would take the Senate a week just to assign members to the committee, and the odds of the two sides quickly finding a financing solution for a 12-month extension before the calendar year wraps up are roughly zero.
In other words, the new House Republican scheme is intended to raise middle-class taxes without making it look like House Republicans are raising middle-class taxes. In two weeks, Americans will discover that their paychecks have shrunk, and because political journalism is largely broken, they’ll be told it’s the result of “both sides” being unwilling to compromise.
Those reports will be wrong.