One more politics post — I think it’s worth considering what the payroll tax standoff tells us.
First, I’m not sure what the House GOP thought they were trying to pull. Jonathan Chait writes,
The payroll tax debacle is now the third suicidal episode undertaken by the House Republicans since they took control at the beginning of the year. The first was when they voted almost unanimously for Paul Ryanâ€™s budget, which was filled with grist for attack ads â€“ huge cuts to Medicare, big tax cuts for the wealthy, deregulating Wall Street â€“ despite it having no chance of passing this term. The second was when they played chicken with the debt ceiling and turned a once-routine procedure into a white-knuckle game of chicken with the world economy. And then this week, when they attempted to extract concessions in return for extending the payroll tax holiday, an anti-recessionary measure with strong support from economists, businesses, and voters. These are not just gestures. The right-wingers are really trying to off themselves.
The debt ceiling fight hurt them, but it probably hurt President Obama more, which is all they really care about. They must have thought they could hurt the President some more by playing games with the payroll tax.
But this time Democrats refused to hand over the ransom. One reason is that, since the debt ceiling debacle brought about in part by his own weakness, Obama has found his political footing by detaching himself from congressional procedure and standing in stark opposition to Republicans. The second reason is that the Obama administration was genuinely terrified of failing to lift the debt ceiling, and while it wants to extend the payroll tax holiday, missing the deadline in a game of chicken wouldnâ€™t cause massive, irreparable harm.
Republicans, possibly overconfident from their debt ceiling hostage caper, seemed not to contemplate the possibility that Democrats would hold together then blame them for failure. They ended up eroding their own credibility on taxes, general competence, and willingness to take action to help the economy.
This is going to come to a head again in two months. The House Republicans got one concession, which is that the 12-month deal is to be negotiated by a conference committee. Steve Benen says this committee is being loaded for failure —
The House GOP leadership has already announced its slate of members to participate in the conference committee, and not coincidentally, most of them have said they donâ€™t want a payroll-cut extension no matter what concessions Democrats are willing to make.
House Republicans arenâ€™t looking to start cutting deals; theyâ€™re angry and now even less inclined to compromise. But wonâ€™t the GOP run into the same pressures that led to this weekâ€™s capitulation? Maybe, but letâ€™s not forget why Boehner & Co. were so eager to send this to a conference committee in the first place.
A lot of pundits are saying that the House teabaggers in particular honestly believe that too many working people are not paying enough taxes and are putting too much burden on the rich. And I’m saying, if that’s the fight you want to have going into an election year, bring it on.
This glimpse of honest debate among Republicans wonâ€™t last long, I predict. Theyâ€™ll try their best to resume the practice of absolute anti-Obama unity, which has worked quite well for them. But no one can erase what voters have seen this week, and it wasnâ€™t pretty.
There are only two possible reasons for House Republicans to behave the way they did. Maybe they are so blinded by ideology that they no longer care about the impact their actions might have on struggling American families. Or maybe their only guiding principle is that anything Obama supports, they oppose.
The weekâ€™s events offer a lesson for Obama, too. One reason for all the Republican angst was that public opinion has become more sensitive to issues of economic justice. This may be partly due to the Occupy protests. But Iâ€™m convinced that Obamaâ€™s fiery barnstorming in favor of his American Jobs Act has played a big role. People are hearing his message.