Prospects for Round 2 of the payroll fight

When we last left the fight over the payroll-tax-break extension, House Republicans had caved and agreed to pass a two-month extension. It was a heartening victory for Democrats, and a bitter setback for the right, but it also set the stage for a similar fight before the end of February.

I’ve been pretty pessimistic about the chances for a year-long extension, but given recent reports, all hope is not lost. Joan McCarter flagged this interesting Roll Call piece that noted Republican lawmakers are “loath to repeat” the battle of a few weeks ago.

Sources close to leadership, the failed Joint Committee on Deficit Reduction and the conferees all seem to agree that the task at hand should not be too difficult: Previous negotiators have provided the new group of lawmakers an expansive menu of offsets to cobble together for the full-year package.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) were very close to a full-year agreement at the end of 2011. House Republican leaders had been preparing to present a full-year extension to their Conference when the larger negotiations broke down, and the two Senate leaders struck the two-month agreement.

What’s more, Politico reported that House Republicans are also “promising to be flexible in the quest to get [the year-long extension] out of the way.”

[House Majority Leader Eric Cantor] said he hopes Congress can “dispense with [this debate],” adding that he was always for a yearlong extension and the two sides were “not far apart at the end when everything fell apart.”

In short, they want to wrap it up quickly.

“Engaging further on the payroll tax cuts is not worth our while,” said Georgia Rep. Jack Kingston, a conservative who has served in the House since 1992.

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.) added that President Obama seems eager to fight with Congress over the payroll tax cut, which should be a clue to his party. “When somebody’s trying to pick a fight with you it’s usually smart to avoid it. They’re trying to pick the fight because they think they can win it. My experience is they’re usually right.”

This doesn’t mean a year-long extension will be easy — in this Congress, nothing is ever easy — but Republicans are still licking their wounds from December and apparently hope to avoid another failure.