Breakthrough on Payroll Tax?

Perhaps using the cover of crosstalk on the president’s FY 2013 budget, House GOP leaders have abruptly signaled they are willing to support an extension of the current payroll tax cut until the end of the year without “offsets” or non-germane Democratic concessions, according to TPM’s Brian Beutler:

Facing emboldened Democratic negotiators and a quickly thinning legislative calendar, House Republican leaders have offered to extend the payroll tax holiday through the end of the year without paying for it. The development represents a dramatic reversal for GOP leaders, who nearly allowed the payroll tax cut to lapse in December in part because of their insistence that the package be financially offset.

Given John Boehner’s spotty record of being able to convince his troops to execute tactical retreats, there’s always a chance he will face a revolt within his caucus that will return matters to square one, while even further eroding his credibility. And it hardly resolves the other key gridlocked short-term issues facing Congress:

Even if there are over 290 votes for passing the payroll tax cut without offsets, the plan raises several new questions: Can Dem and GOP negotiators find offsets for the other key measures that are also set to expire, including extending unemployment benefits and Medicare physician reimbursements? At about $25 billion and $35 billion respectively, those aren’t easy items to pay for. Would either party allow those other measures to lapse? Will Republicans ultimately cave in full? And how will Senate Republicans — who have filibuster power in their own chamber — react to all of this?

Suffusing the confused situation is the growing realization of both parties in Congress that the underlying partisan dynamics of public opinion are slowly shifting as well. Aside from the president’s gradually improving approval ratings, polls are beginning to uniformly show Obama opening up a significant lead over the remaining Republican presidential candidates (just today, Pew released a new survey showing Obama with a 52-44 lead over Romney, and with a 51-40 advantage among independent voters).

It’s probably enough to send the beleaguered Speaker out for a smoke, or an hour at the tanning bed.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.