After House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) surrendered in the payroll tax-cut fight late yesterday, he did what he should have done on Sunday: he told his caucus what they didn’t want to hear.
After the Senate approved its bipartisan compromise, the Speaker initially approached his members, hat in hand, asking for their permission to pass the extension. They said no. Yesterday, Boehner presented the same deal as a fait accompli — and this time, he took no questions from his caucus.
As for what happens now, the GOP leadership will, probably later today, bring the tweaked Senate agreement to the House floor, hoping to approve it by unanimous consent. If Republicans balk — and they might — Boehner will reconvene the House next week for an up-or-down vote. Since that vote would very likely pass the Senate bill, an objection today would only delay the inevitable, and extend this fiasco for a few more days.
For his part, the Speaker conceded yesterday that putting his caucus between 160 million Americans and a popular, bipartisan tax cut probably wasn’t the “smartest thing in the world.” That’s clearly true. In fact, there was nothing “smart” about Boehner’s strategy at all — he fought to kill a middle-class tax cut; he allowed his unhinged caucus to push him around; and he falsely assumed Dems would raise the white flag first.
Indeed, perhaps one of the most striking realizations from this entire dispute is that Republicans gambled that Democrats would cave when the pressure was on — and Democrats didn’t. Arguably for the first time all year, Democrats from the White House to Capitol Hill knew they had the better hand, told Republicans that Dems wouldn’t fold this time, and sat back and watched and the GOP unraveled.
That’s the good news. Unfortunately, there’s some bad news, too.
First, this extension only keeps the status quo in place for two months, and the odds of another bipartisan deal before the new February deadline are poor. I’ll flesh this out in more detail later this morning.
Second, Dems held their ground this week, but they were really only standing firm after having made concessions in the Senate compromise (they dropped the surtax and accepted an expedited Keystone XL decision). I give Democrats credit for doing the right thing this week, but it’s only fair to note they refused to compromise after already compromising.
And third, as Greg Sargent explained, Republicans have still been able to block the larger Democratic jobs agenda, of which the payroll tax cut was a part.
[T]his is the only piece of Obama’s jobs plan that Dems have been able to pressure Republicans into supporting. As a result, the basic overall dynamic may remain unchanged: A bad economy next year; Congressional gridlock; rising public disenchantment with government; and an incumbent running for reelection after failing to prevail on Congress to pass many of his major proposals to fix the economy.
Having said all that, Dems still have reason to smile this morning. After a year in which policymakers have moved from one hostage crisis to another, Democrats won a big one to close out the year, leaving Republicans looking awful and a weakened Speaker looking beaten.
For a party that earned a reputation for capitulating a little too often, it’ll start 2012 on the right foot.