WSJ warns House Republicans of "fiasco" on payroll tax holiday stand

Reminding House Republicans of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s pledge that his main objective in 2011-2 is to keep Barack Obama from winning re-election, the Wall Street Journal wonders, er, what the hell the House GOP sees as its main objective.  Having turned the payroll tax holiday extension into a “fiasco” is bad enough the WSJ says, but making it a pointless fiasco feeds the notion that Obama is the only adult in the room:


The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.

Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he’s spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.

And if this was in service to a greater economic point, it might be worth it.  Unfortunately …

House Republicans yesterday voted down the Senate’s two-month extension of the two-percentage-point payroll tax holiday to 4.2% from 6.2%. They say the short extension makes no economic sense, but then neither does a one-year extension. No employer is going to hire a worker based on such a small and temporary decrease in employment costs, as this year’s tax holiday has demonstrated. The entire exercise is political, but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics. …

If Republicans didn’t want to extend the payroll tax cut on the merits, then they should have put together a strategy and the arguments for defeating it and explained why.

But if they knew they would eventually pass it, as most of them surely believed, then they had one of two choices. Either pass it quickly and at least take some political credit for it.  Or agree on a strategy to get something in return for passing it, which would mean focusing on a couple of popular policies that would put Mr. Obama and Democrats on the political spot. They finally did that last week by attaching a provision that requires Mr. Obama to make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within 60 days, and the President grumbled but has agreed to sign it.


The Keystone XL concession was a real victory for the GOP.  For that matter, the two-month extension would have allowed Republicans to force more concessions in the next round of negotiations.  Supposedly, the House GOP worried that having a debate over the tax in February would benefit Obama, but it’s hard to see how.  The one-year extension would mean that Obama wouldn’t have a key policy at risk, and in February most of the political attention will still be on the Republican presidential primary.

Besides, if the House GOP didn’t want this deal, why didn’t they work with McConnell to keep negotiating?  McConnell got most of the Republican caucus to vote in support of the 60-day extension after seeing the Keystone XL concession as a real victory.  The policy itself isn’t the issue, as House Republicans will apparently thunder to the roll-call vote that extends the holiday for a full year.  Now, as the WSJ says, the Republicans on Capitol Hill have formed “a circular firing squad” that will not just put the Keystone XL concession at risk, but will almost certainly boost Obama’s standing with voters at the expense of Republicans, both on and off of Capitol Hill.

The WSJ editors offer Republicans some free advice: Cut your losses and pass the bill.  Will the House GOP listen, or will they continue to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory in an effort to demand a longer time frame for a success in pandering, but a gimmicky failure in economic policy?


Update: Listen closely.  Really closely.  Don’t hear anything?  That’s Mitch McConnell signaling Boehner that he’s on that limb all by himself, according to Politico:

Speaker John Boehner stood before a band of fellow House Republicans on Tuesday and angrily demanded the Senate return to the Capitol and extend the payroll tax cut for a full year.

Left out of the photo op: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the co-architect of the Senate’s two-month tax cut extension. He reached an agreement that has become a throbbing political headache for Boehner and has remained unusually silent as the partisan rancor and gridlock cause a year-end embarrassment for Congress. …

“This is a colossal fumble by the House Republicans,” said a senior Senate GOP aide, requesting anonymity to speak candidly about his own party. “Their inability to recognize a win is costing our party our long-held advantage on the key issue of tax relief. It’s time for Boehner and [House Majority Leader Eric] Cantor to look these rookies in the eye and explain how the game is won or lost.”


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