What’s a House Speaker to do when his conference starts balking at his strategy? When conservatives resisted John Boehner’s efforts to craft a payroll-tax cut extension package, The Hill reports that Boehner got a lifeline from a most unlikely source (via Instapundit):
For House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), there’s nothing like a presidential veto threat to make his job easier.
The Speaker earned positive reviews for the revised payroll tax cut package he presented to the House Republican conference Thursday, a sharp turnaround from the resistance he faced from conservatives when he first outlined his plan last week.
Republican leaders added a number of sweeteners to the package to win conservative support, but several lawmakers said that more than anything else, the turning point was President Obama’s threat on Wednesday to reject the payroll tax bill if the House attached a provision forcing administrative action on the Keystone XL oil sands pipeline.
The pipeline issue isn’t the only one addressed in the new package. Boehner also has language that will delay the EPA’s MACT rules on boilers, as well as crack down on the use of tax credits by illegal immigrants. In exchange, the bill would apply the doc-fix to Medicare and extend unemployment benefits, paying for both by imposing a pay freeze for federal workers and more fees for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.
Given GOP resistance to continually extending unemployment insurance benefits, it’s not a surprise that the conservatives in his caucus balked at the proposal. The veto threat changed the game:
Rep. Mike Coffman (R-Colo.) called the shift in attitude “a stunning change.”
“It was a 180-degree difference,” he told reporters.
Democrats in the House could still oppose it, of course, and the Senate could refuse to take it up at all. However, they’re not doing any better, even with Democratic proposals on the payroll-tax cut extension:
The Senate on Thursday rejected dueling partisan proposals to slash federal payroll taxes for 160 million Americans, while House Republicans trotted out a new, more conservative plan that sought to link the tax issue to other GOP priorities. …
Despite the time crunch, the House and Senate concluded work for this week — neither chamber has votes scheduled Friday — with little sign of compromise on the increasingly contentious payroll tax issue. Instead, both parties spent the week digging in.
Eager to paint Republicans as defenders of tax cuts only for the wealthy, Democrats forced a vote Thursday on a $185 billion bill that paid for the tax cut in part with a 1.9 percent surtax on those making more than $1 million a year — even though a similar measure was blocked only a week ago.
It was blocked again Thursday on a 50 to 48 vote, with 60 votes needed to proceed.
The inclusion of the unemployment benefit extension and the doc-fix makes the Boehner proposal difficult to oppose for Democrats. Both have been priorities, and the doc-fix has been an albatross around their necks that the GOP have used to attack ObamaCare for years. The postponement of the boiler rules won’t have too much impact on Democratic priorities, but the pipeline will cause some of them to balk — although maybe not all of them. Obama insisted that his payroll tax cut extension would create more jobs than the pipeline, but why choose between them? Why not do both, and get the Republicans on the hook for the unemployment benefits and doc-fix at the same time?
At the very least, it will be difficult for Democrats to oppose it in public, and if they do, the Republicans can then argue that they have moved on all of the voters’ priorities while an obstructionist Senate refuses to consider more than two dozen jobs bills passed in the House. It’s not a bad strategy, and Obama’s veto threat makes it even more attractive.
Addendum: It should be noted that the payroll-tax cut extension is a waste of time and money. The cut didn’t produce any growth in 2011, mainly because it’s temporary, and at the same time it’s bleeding a Social Security fund that’s already in the red. An honest approach would be to implement permanent tax reforms on which businesses could rely for investment pricing.