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December 20, 2011 8:00 AM Congress’ conservative, convoluted chaos

By Steve Benen

Passing a popular, middle-class tax cut really shouldn’t be this difficult.

Conditions looked pretty good on Saturday. The Senate easily passed a bipartisan compromise for a two-month extension of the payroll tax break, 89 to 10. The White House liked it; House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) liked it; and there was ample room for optimism.

Then the radicalized House Republican caucus decided to throw a tantrum. As of Sunday night, the New York Times noted that the deal that would send everyone home for the holidays had “given way to chaos.”

Yesterday, Capitol Hill was even more chaotic.

House Republicans entered the day with one goal in mind: kill a bipartisan compromise on a middle-class tax cut, the week before Christmas, without looking ridiculous. After days of meetings and delays, a broken promise to hold an up-or-down vote on the Senate bill, and a surprising number of pot shots at their Senate Republican colleagues, the House GOP came up with a convoluted scheme. This accurate description of the new plan is likely to make your eyes glaze over:

Initially, the House Republicans planned to hold a standard vote on a “motion to concur” with the Senate tax cut extension…. But in a heated meeting of the Rules Committee that determines how votes are held, the motion was changed to a “motion to reject.”

What was originally scheduled to be three votes — a vote on the Senate bill, a vote to go into conference with the Senate to change the bill, and a vote on a nonbinding resolution relating to the debate — turned into one. The final rule that passed the committee, along party lines, allows for a single vote to reject a motion to agree with the Senate bill. If the motion is rejected, the bill is sent to a conference committee. […]

Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier (R-Calif.) said a vote to reject the Senate bill and send it to conference is “exactly” the same as a vote to concur with the bill.

It is still “regular order” for the House to specifically vote to “reject” a bill versus holding an up-or-down vote on a bill, Dreier said. Anyone who supports the Senate bill can simply “vote in opposition to that motion to go to conference.”

The way House Republicans have set this up, those who vote “yes” are actually voting “no” on the bipartisan Senate compromise. In fact, under this scheme, the House will hardly be voting on the Senate version at all — Republicans know they’re inviting political trouble by rejecting a middle-class tax cut — and will instead be kinda sorta voting to send the competing versions of the payroll extension to conference committee.

And what’s wrong with that? In theory, this might sound reasonable — the House and Senate passed radically different bills on the same issue, so the standard operating procedure would be for a conference committee to work out a consensus bill that falls somewhere between the two.

But in this case, what’s theoretically reasonable is irrelevant. It would take the Senate a week just to assign members to the committee, and the odds of the two sides quickly finding a financing solution for a 12-month extension before the calendar year wraps up are roughly zero.

In other words, the new House Republican scheme is intended to raise middle-class taxes without making it look like House Republicans are raising middle-class taxes. In two weeks, Americans will discover that their paychecks have shrunk, and because political journalism is largely broken, they’ll be told it’s the result of “both sides” being unwilling to compromise.

Those reports will be wrong.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

Comments

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  • Mudge on December 20, 2011 8:09 AM:

    You mean House Republicans are more comcerned about public relations than governing? Be still my heart.

  • just bill on December 20, 2011 8:10 AM:

    i don't think it's going to be "both sides" this time. the mainstream news reports i've seen have made it very clear that it's the tea party republicans that are behind this and if this measure doesn't pass, they will get the blame.

  • c u n d gulag on December 20, 2011 8:11 AM:

    Mommy,
    I thought the circus was supposed to be fun?
    These clowns suck!

    And yeah, cue the "both sides couldn't come to an agreement..." BS.
    Our Fourth Estate makes me want to down a fifth of vodka every night.

    And for those of us who believe in science, I think it's pretty clear that "The Great American Experiment" has failed.

  • SW on December 20, 2011 8:12 AM:

    It is a strategy that is designed to take advantage of a corrupt press and the Democrats proven willingness to succumb to the hostage mentality. It will never end until the Democrats finally say no. They will never have a stronger hand than this issue. Otherwise it just keeps getting worse, and because of the press, there will be little blowback in November.

  • Josef K on December 20, 2011 8:15 AM:

    In other words, the new House Republican scheme is intended to raise middle-class taxes without making it look like House Republicans are raising middle-class taxes.

    Wonder who actually dreamed up this little scheme. I can't believe it was any of the House caucus, whose collective brainpower doesn't look sufficient to light a lightbulb.

    This is just nuts, even for Cantor and company.

  • terraformer on December 20, 2011 8:16 AM:

    Political journalism isn't "broken", it's been "Occupied". Occupied by a cabal of neo-feudalists who decide what gets "covered" and thus who control the news, memes, and message. It is that occupation which keeps the 27%-ers in line, frothing at that which goes against their own best interests.

    And the rest of us scramble to overcome the misinformation, instead of scrambling to overcome the neo-feudalists. The gelding of the Fourth Estate is what historians, if there are any around, will point to as the most powerful effect that led to our undoing.

  • Captain Dan on December 20, 2011 8:18 AM:

    Of course"political journalism is largely broken", the media is owned by rich republicans!

  • Captain Dan on December 20, 2011 8:20 AM:

    Of course"political journalism is largely broken", the media is owned by rich republicans!

  • Brenna on December 20, 2011 8:39 AM:

    I think this could be the beginning of the end for that obnoxious tea party crowd, and maybe even for John Boehner. What a joke he is! Unreal. And Cantor too.

    The headlines I'm seeing are spelling the details out pretty clearly. I couldn't believe the shots the nasty house republicans were taking at the GOP senate. Allen West even made a catty remark about pretty boy Rubio.

    By the end of 2012, EVERYONE will hopefully be fed up with these childish, selfish little thugs who were financed and coached by bigger thugs like the Koch bros. I predict our short tea party nightmare will soon be over.

  • ElegantFowl on December 20, 2011 8:39 AM:

    I think we are seeing more accurate headlines describing the GOP's obstruction. The procedural machinations are intended to influence the headline writers (nobody else understands or cares), so they may revert back to false-equivalence form, but so far the coverage seems better.

    Most of the rational (*) American people understand that Obama and Dems proposed and supported the payroll tax cut, and Reps have consistently opposed and killed 100% of the AJA.

    (*) recall that 20% are irrational and non-influenceable Birchers and Cheneyites

  • Kiweagle on December 20, 2011 8:39 AM:

    Until there is a means of enforcement against lying in the media and/ or attempts at false equivalency, this practice will continue unabated long into the foreseeable future.

    As this site's commenters of the past and present know all too well, the lead up to the Iraq War proved that you can lie about anything and not just get away with it, but get promoted for it. That is, so long as you did so in favor of conservative policies...

    As much as the media is to blame, most of the responsibility lies with the Democrat(ic) Party for their complete and total failure to inform the public of their achievements and policy positions. 2010 was such a horrendous loss because most of the voting public believed everything the GOP told them that was demonstrably false, e.g. Death panels, higher taxes, greater limits on gun rights, destruction of Medicare by ACA, etc.

  • rea on December 20, 2011 9:06 AM:

    By the end of 2012, EVERYONE will hopefully be fed up with these childish, selfish little thugs

    By the end of 2012--two months after the election. That, of course, is more or less the Republican strategy--recall GWB coming out for abolition of social security in December 2004

  • T2 on December 20, 2011 9:12 AM:

    the "both sides" meme is totally required in order to get away with what the Republicans are currently engaged in.....stalling government. For every story or headline saying "House Republicans vote No" there is two or three saying "Congress Fails". Believe me when I say that in GOP houses all across American, their email is full of GOP talking points boosting the "both sides" meme....getting it firmly entrenched in the minds. I saw two letters to the editor in my morning paper placing the blame squarely on the Dems for obstruction just as bad or worse than GOPers. These people are crazy, I get that, but what about the Editors that print this stuff? Are they simply tools?

  • RepublicanPointOfView on December 20, 2011 9:12 AM:

    Steve Benen is obviously wrong about this...

    I was watching CBS National News shortly after 3 AM this morning and they said that the house republicans objections are in good faith and valid!

    And everyone knows that OUR Corporately Owned Media are liberal and have no biases in favor of the republican party.

  • aggie bee on December 20, 2011 9:14 AM:

    Lemme see if I got this straight...

    * If the motion to reject accepting the Senate bill is accepted, the Senate bill is neither rejected nor accepted.

    * If the motion to reject accepting the Senate bill is rejected, the Senate bill is neither rejected nor accepted.

    * If John Boehner bends over far enough, the ensuing teabag party will truly become the money-shot heard 'round the world

    Do I get an 'A'?

  • Marko on December 20, 2011 10:26 AM:

    "It is a strategy that is designed to take advantage of a corrupt press and the Democrats proven willingness to succumb to the hostage mentality. It will never end until the Democrats finally say no." - SW

    Harry Reid did exactly that. Senate Dems and Reps compromised and sent the bill to the House for final approval. The time for "committee work" has come and gone. So Bonehead needs to figure out how to get his House in order or he's going to be left holding the bag.

  • deanarms on December 20, 2011 11:03 AM:

    Even worse, the reports I've heard on my local Chicago news and on NPR(!) say that the House Republicans want to extend to cut for a year, not just for the 2 months that the Senate passed. Of course the reports neglect to mention the poison pill features that the House wants to foist on everyone,so their one-year proposal sounds reasonable.

  • Sgt. Gym Bunny on December 20, 2011 11:07 AM:

    "In fact, under this scheme, the House will hardly be voting on the Senate version at all Republicans know they're inviting political trouble by rejecting a middle-class tax cut and will instead be kinda sorta voting to send the competing versions of the payroll extension to conference committee... It would take the Senate a week just to assign members to the committee..."

    Really, what is with these yahoo Republicans and committees??? If I didn't know any better I'd say that they were trying to concoct a scenario for being able to use the royal "we" to include the Dems in the responsibility for the ensuing shit storm. But I do know better: they want the Dems to take all the blame...

  • BillFromPA on December 20, 2011 11:25 AM:

    Here's what I think the long-term strategy of the repugs is. By being this obviously disfunctional, they're making the point to the electorate, without actually having to say it, 'You better vote for the GOP because NOTHING is going to get done unless WE have total control'. In the dark recesses of the 'swing voter's' mind, and we know how important they are, is the idea that we'd better not piss off the repugs or they'll blow the republic up. And they've proved that they will.

  • JimAfrom Oakland on December 20, 2011 12:04 PM:

    If I was a political journalist, the story worth writing on this whole episode is that Republican leadership in Congress negotiated a deal and rank and file house membership wouldn't go along. To my memory, the last time this happened was during the TARP debate. From a news standpoint, it seems rare to me, and I would like to know when the last time the Democrats had the same problem (I honestly can't remember it) and historically, how often this has happened in the past 50 years or so. Oh, well.

  • TCinLA on December 20, 2011 1:14 PM:

    Updated Mark Twain: "Consider an idiot. Then consider a Republican Congressman. Ah, but I repeat myself."

  • TCinLA on December 20, 2011 1:17 PM:

    Let's keep something in mind: the present Republican collection of fools, morons, idiots and charlatans is not in power in the House of Representatives because the Republican Party went out and convinced the country to put them there. In fact, the 2010 Republican vote was not larger than the 2008 vote, where they lost. The Democratic vote in 2010 was lower than 2008. So all those "disgruntled, disappointed" Democrats who didn't vote in 2010, who complain about what's going on now as a result of that, need only look in the bathroom mirror when they want to see how it happened.

  • MNRD on December 20, 2011 2:18 PM:

    The thing of it is, in this case "both sides" consists of the House Republicans on one side and the Senate Republicans on the other side!!

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