As expected, House Republicans this afternoon approved their counter-attack on the payroll tax break, scuttling the bipartisan compromise passed by the Senate, and vowing to take the debate to a conference committee. In the end, every House Democrat voted against the GOP scheme, and seven House Republicans broke ranks.
In other words, it wasn’t close.
So, now what happens? If you’re listening to the House GOP leadership (who supported the Senate deal before changing their minds) or the House GOP rank and file (who admit they don’t want to extend the payroll tax break at all), now is the time for “negotiations.” Democrats have already given in on an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline and given in on demands that a surtax on millionaires and billionaires be dropped, but Republicans believe that should only be the starting point for talks in which Democrats go even further to make the right happier.
Dems, at least at this point, seem entirely unwilling to oblige. Take a look at President Obama’s remarks from the White House press briefing room this afternoon.
If Republicans were waiting to hear Obama express an openness for additional compromise, they were disappointed. “The clock is ticking, time is running out, and if House Republicans refuse to vote for the Senate bill or even allow it to come up for a vote, taxes will go up in 11 days,” the president said. Senate Democratic leaders repeated the same message this morning.
In other words, the House GOP has two choices: raise middle-class taxes or pass the Senate’s bipartisan compromise.
What about the conference committee? Remember, that isn’t much of an option — the payroll break expires in 11 days, and the very idea that policymakers could craft a year-long deal in that time is rather ridiculous. It’d take a week just to go jump through the procedural hoops and put the conference committee together. A vote to send this to conference was a vote to kill the tax break, plain and simple.
At this point, if House Republicans are looking for an advantage in this fight, they don’t have any. In fact, Greg Sargent talked to a senior Senate Republican aide earlier today who conceded, “The House has zero leverage.”
The fact that Senate Republicans continue to blast House Republicans for their intransigence also further pushes the GOP into a corner.
If Boehner, Cantor, & Co. have a coherent game plan, they’re hiding it well.