Boehner’s once bitten, twice shy

My prediction about the failure of a year-long payroll tax-cut deal isn’t looking so good. On the contrary, it’s looking increasingly likely that an agreement should come together well ahead of the deadline.

The problem, as I saw it, was that House Republicans bit the bullet in December after badly miscalculating. They accepted a two-month deal, but they would, I argued, make excessive demands in the next round, dooming any possible extension. Since GOP members tend to oppose the tax-cut policy anyway, they wouldn’t have much of an incentive to be cooperative.

To be sure, far-right members will continue to push an extremist wish list, but unlike last time, House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is reportedly “prepared to navigate around rebellious Tea Party-aligned lawmakers to get a deal.”

“I think Boehner will seek a more accommodating approach to get a good percentage of Democrats to vote for it — even if it costs him a lot of House Republican freshmen,” one House Republican leadership aide told Reuters.

“His instincts will be not to be so reliant on House Republican freshmen,” the aide added, referring to the 85 first-term congressmen.

From the perspective of House GOP leaders, Boehner took orders from the right-wing contingency in December, and the result was a fiasco in which Republicans were pushing for a middle-class tax increase a few days before Christmas. The Speaker could pursue a replay, but he seems to realize there’s not much of an upside for his party. Why suffer through the same easily-avoided debacle twice?

The deadline for an extension is Feb. 29, but Boehner is apparently so eager to get this over with, the Reuters report indicated he’d like to wrap up a deal over the next two weeks — so President Obama can’t use it against Republicans in the State of the Union address.

This is not to say Republicans will go along with a surtax on millionaires and billionaires as part of a compromise — that wouldn’t have the votes to pass either chamber, no matter how popular the idea is with the American mainstream — but just about any other funding mechanism would likely get the Speaker’s approval.

Nothing is ever easy in this Congress, and there will be plenty of opportunities for failure, but the odds of eventual success appear to be improving.

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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.