McConnell sides with Dems over Boehner

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has been awfully quiet the last few days, as House Republicans rebel against the bipartisan payroll-tax-cut compromise he negotiated and helped pass last weekend. This morning that changed.

Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell says the House and Senate should meet in Washington to extend the payroll tax set to expire Dec. 31.

With the clock ticking, McConnell says the House should pass a short-term extension that gives 160 million Americans certainty that their taxes will not rise Jan. 1. The Kentucky Republican also called on Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to convene negotiators on the longer-term extension that House Republicans are demanding.

In a statement, the Senate Minority Leader argued, “House Republicans sensibly want greater certainty about the duration of these provisions, while Senate Democrats want more time to negotiate the terms. These goals are not mutually exclusive. We can and should do both.”

As a practical matter, McConnell was throwing his support to the same proposal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered House GOP leaders earlier in the week — after the House approves the Senate-approved bipartisan compromise, senators can start the next round of negotiations over a year-long extension.

The timing of McConnell’s announcement was rather remarkable. House Republican leaders, including Speaker Boehner, had just wrapped up a press conference on the Hill, telling reporters that the House GOP caucus won’t give in, won’t pass the temporary extension, and won’t do anything until a conference committee convenes (the conference committee would invariably kill the tax cut).

McConnell, almost immediately after Boehner wrapped up his remarks, cut the legs out from underneath the House GOP leadership and sided with Harry Reid’s proposed solution.

I honestly can’t remember the last time we saw a Senate Republican leader and a House Republican leader this far apart on a high-profile policy dispute. Everything about McConnell’s new statement appears intended to smack Boehner down, just as the Speaker tries to find his footing.

It’s remarkable, and further isolates the radicalized House GOP caucus.

There are 9 days, 12 hours, and 50 minutes left on the clock.

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Steve Benen

Steve Benen is a producer at MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show. He was the principal contributor to the Washington Monthly's Political Animal blog from August 2008 until January 2012.