Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Leverage, Again

House Republicans have decided they will reject the compromise Democrats and Republicans have approved to extend the payroll tax cut for two months and including provisions demanded by the GOP. According to Brian Buetler of Talking Points Memo, "they will vote on a single measure that rejects the Senate’s plan and simultaneously calls for a conference with Senate negotiators to iron out the (significant) differences between the two chambers’ plans."

And why shouldn't they? For what seems like months we've heard from Democrats, especially in the administration, that failure to approve this tax cut would bring economic calamity upon the nation. Worse, in an effort to coerce support from Republicans pretending to oppose it, they have framed the proposal, to avert the scheduled return of the tax to the previous level, not as a tax cut but as an effort to prevent taxes from rising. They thus stole a page from the GOP playbook, in which the effort to allow the Bush-era tax cuts to revert to the level called for in legislation approved by Congress and signed by then-President Bush, was inaccurately (but cleverly) framed not as a tax cut but as an effort to prevent liberals from increasing taxes.

And now, surprise! House Republicans not only have repositioned themselves as supporters of a temporary tax reduction, but of a longer-term reduction. "We don't need to be governing in two-month increments," House Majority Leader Eric Cantor declared, " people can't live their lives like that."

Having obtained from the White House a provision which would speed the review process for the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast, House Speaker John Boehner took the Senate-passed measure back to his caucus, which overwhelmingly rejected it. Democrats, simulating ("simulating," not "stimulating') political virgins, expressed shock at the intransigence of House Republicans. House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer of Maryland intoned "We are witnessing the concluding convulsion of confrontation and obstruction in the most unproductive, tea-party-dominated, partisan session of Congress- the most partisan of which I have participated." Terming Boehner "a decent guy," New York Senator Chuck Schumer charged "he's got a caucus that is sort of out of control. He's afraid of the eighty Tea Party, way-out-there people in his caucus. He's letting them run the caucus, run his House."

Now the House GOP is poised for a meeting of the minds in a House-Senate conference, which will produce an additional concession or two for the conservative cause. All of this would have been avoided if instead of the dangerous payroll tax cut, President Obama had proposed extending the Make Work Pay tax cut, which would have prevented Republicans from posing, however transparently, as defenders of the Social Security trust fund.

Sometimes, political adversaries let slip their true motives. Eyeing re-election, President George HW Bush alarmed his strategists by explicitly stating "message: I care." So Democrats should have been warned when John Boehner remarked "I do trust him. It’s not that we have a tough time coming to an agreement. But the president and I have a very cordial relationship...."

Yes, John Boehner does trust Barack Obama. Otherwise, little progress could be made in advancing the GOP agenda.


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