Political Animal


December 19, 2011 8:00 AM When ‘a done deal’ unravels

By Steve Benen

The pieces were in place. Senate leads from both parties agreed to a temporary compromise that looked pretty sensible: Dems would get a two-month extension of the payroll tax break and a clean extension of unemployment benefits, while GOP lawmakers would get an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline. It was quickly approved with overwhelming, bipartisan support, 89 to 10.

What about the House? Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) noted Saturday, “This is probably a done deal in the House; it should be.” None other than House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) seemed relieved, calling the bipartisan compromise a “good deal” and a “victory.”

But Boehner then took this victory to his caucus, and as we’ve seen many times before, the Speaker quickly realized his job is to take, not give, orders from his right-wing members.

The House Republican leader on Sunday flatly rejected a short-term, bipartisan Senate measure to extend a payroll tax break and unemployment insurance, setting the stage for a bitter year-end Congressional collision and the potential loss of benefits for millions of Americans.

In an interview on “Meet The Press” on NBC, Speaker John A. Boehner said his members broadly opposed the two-month extension that passed the Senate 89 to 10, believing that it would be “just kicking the can down the road.”

Boehner added, “It’s pretty clear that I and our members oppose the Senate bill.”

Except, it’s not clear at all. Why is it, exactly, that Boehner called the compromise a “good deal” and a “victory” on Saturday, only to say he opposes the deal on Sunday? For that matter, as recently as Friday, the Speaker said he’d demand an expedited decision on the Keystone XL pipeline as a condition for the payroll break. Democrats agreed to meet the demand, and Boehner’s House Republicans still won’t pass it.

Indeed, the House will likely take up the Senate deal later today, simply to prove it can’t pass the lower chamber. In the bigger picture, it’s pretty amazing: House Republicans are going to kill a bipartisan compromise on a middle-class tax cut, which just passed the Senate 89 to 10, the week before Christmas.

It’s worth emphasizing that the GOP’s new demands are coming into focus. Last week, Republicans wanted an expedited decision on Keystone. They got it. This week, Republicans are arguing that the payroll tax break, if it’s extended at all, should be extended for a year, not for two months.

For the record, I’d be delighted to see a one-year extension, and most congressional Democrats appear to agree. But since there are irreconcilable disagreements over financing, and time is running out, a temporary fix would give everyone some breathing room for additional talks.

But House Republicans have told their ostensible leader this just won’t do, and the bipartisan agreement that would send everyone home for the holidays has, as the NYT put it, “given way to chaos.”

If Americans find all of this ridiculous, they should have been a little more careful before the 2010 midterms.

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.


Post a comment
  • zeitgeist on December 19, 2011 8:09 AM:

    being in Iowa, i see multiple political ads literally every commercial break, night and day, most paid for by SuperPACs that are being funded through massive donations.

    cant we have a progressive one to immediately run ads on a big, winning issue like this one?

  • bignose on December 19, 2011 8:14 AM:

    Seems to me that the GOP got schooled again. The House thought that they could pick up and get outta town, leaving the Senate stuck with the decision to pass the funding bill or shut down the government.

    Instead, the omnibus bill passes, Reid does and end run around the House, and now Boenher and Co. are left holding the bag.

  • c u n d gulag on December 19, 2011 8:14 AM:

    In "Get Smart," CONTROL Agent 86's nemesis was KAOS.

    Now, today's Democratic nemesis is Republican chaos.

    "Chaos" must be short for nihilism.

    And it sure looks like the Teabaggers in the House have a tight grip on their Boner.

  • sick-n-effn-tired. on December 19, 2011 8:24 AM:

    zeitgeist . My condolences at having to face that constant barrage of puerile bullshit. That said you are absolutely right where the F**k iss the pushback.
    No balls at all. No left one, no right one ,
    not even a slight one.

  • ET on December 19, 2011 8:26 AM:

    This current Congress is a complete embarrassment.

  • Ron Byers on December 19, 2011 8:28 AM:

    I wonder how well these tea baggers are polling?

    To tell you the truth, I would rather the Republicans kill the tax break and that the government fund 20 infrastructure projects. How about improving the internet. Mine access has been running very slowly for days, and I think it is because the line into my neighborhood is being overrun by demand.

    The same for the electric grid. We have plug in electics right around the corner. Has anybody in government realized what that is going to do to electric demand? We need more powerlines and more electric generation right now.

  • jlt on December 19, 2011 8:35 AM:

    THe repubs have moved the goalposts every time..The boneher cantor gaggle have lost control of their caucus...The gaggle from the right have once again brought desperation to the People to protect their wealthy 1% and Wall Street.

    Remove the repub bagger bums before we have more chaos in the streets due to repub gutting of the Middle Class and stupidity!

  • Bobsled on December 19, 2011 8:40 AM:

    I sincerely hope the GOP House drops the ball.

  • SW on December 19, 2011 8:40 AM:

    Before there are any more compromises with them we should make sure that the electorate is more careful in 2012. This is exactly what elections are for. Not to dilute the difference between the parties. Democrats gave you a payroll tax holiday. Republicans took it away over an insistence on paying for it with ideologically driven riders. Run on it. That is what politics is all about.

  • martin on December 19, 2011 8:47 AM:

    Lucy. Football. Charlie Brown

    Good Grief

  • lou on December 19, 2011 8:56 AM:

    Yesterday's shit sandwich morphed into Ham and cheese on rye today. Tomorrow, shit sandwich sprinkled with crushed glass.

    Why do we expect anything good to come out of this congress? That 2 month extension was a loser -- an appeasement to extortion via a shell game with budget numbers. The GOP congressmen are just bringing us what we expected in two months.

    Let em have it out, now.

  • Brenna on December 19, 2011 9:00 AM:

    I'd like to see Boehner lose his speakership. I don't know if they can dethrone him in January, but he's a complete idiot who's hurting the country. He's supposed to be a leader, not a puppet. I'd like to see complete chaos ensue in the house. The American people need to see what complete morons they voted in.

    This insanity has to stop. The gov't is completely and utterly broken

  • theAmericanist on December 19, 2011 9:13 AM:

    The pivot here is recognizing -- and insisting on the importance of it -- that the Speaker is elected by the WHOLE House. It's not a partisan office.

    The Speaker is always elected by the majority party, sure. But he's not the MAJORITY leader. It's just as lethal to self-government when unanimity among the majority in the House is necessary to pass legislation as it is when 60 votes become necessary to get anything through the Senate.

    There is a stark contrast with the Democratic majority in the last Congress, when Ds insisted on having Republican votes for whatever they wanted to do, or else they wouldn't do it. This was foolish, because with 255 Democrats they didn't need any Republicans. Yet on a number of issues (notably legalization) they didn't have a majority of the House from WITHIN the Democratic Caucus, so they tried to go from 190 or so to 218 by picking up roughly 30 Rs. They could never get 'em.

    But with 200 Ds, they could only got half-hearted pledges from 15 Rs, when they counted 210 Ds, they could only get 'commitment's from 5 Rs, and if they had ever gotten to 215 Ds, they would have no no Rs. Folks forgot the first political skill is the ability to count.

    And that's what we're looking at now. Lord, it's so simple: the Democratic framing should be WE WANT CONGRESS TO VOTE, because that's how self-government works. (It also fits into reforming the Senate, because the filibuster is how a small minority defeats a large majority.)

    But now a substantial # of Ds are willling to vote with a majority of Rs to pass legislation. What's with the Democrats failing to use the old "we're popular, they're unpopular, let's vote" argument?

    With 179 Ds, you only need 38 Rs to pass anything. After that, it's a ratio -- 39 Rs, you need 178 Ds, and so on. The tipping point isn't unanimity, but something more like the 121 Rs that equal half their caucus, or the 162 that make up two-thirds: when 58 Ds and 162 Rs vote for something, it passes the House.

    THAT's the Speaker's job.

  • Kathryn on December 19, 2011 9:16 AM:

    "It's pretty clear that I and our members oppose this bill.". I and our members, back to basic English grammar for the alleged Speaker of the House. John Boehner will go down as one of the worst Speakers of the House, if not the worst. Wonder when John discovered that he opposed the bill, was it the unruly crowd jamming his office lead by the likes of Joe Walsh and Mr. Steadfast and loyal, Alan West , was it the smarmy gentleman from Richmond Eric Cantor, maybe the insane posse group led by Steve King and Louie Gohmert.......so many choices.

    Not being a poker player, I"ll let chi res, who I suspect is a pretty good one, suggest the next move for the White House. Personally, I favor an end to blackmail from these secessionists while being mindful of the mind field of blame that could fall on the president if it's not handled flawlessly.

  • aggie bee on December 19, 2011 9:24 AM:

    If Americans find all of this ridiculous, they should have been a little more careful before the 2010 midterms.

    Walk up to the average American voter. Say, "Hey, what are your thoughts on the recent payroll tax battle in Congress?"

    Be prepared for a stare so vacuous it could suck in whole galaxies.

  • chi res on December 19, 2011 9:58 AM:

    it sure looks like the Teabaggers in the House have a tight grip on their Boner

    Congress, aka Masturbation Central Station.

  • Holly W on December 19, 2011 9:59 AM:

    Democrats need some disciplined and user-friendly messaging on this: Republicans view the middle class as a hostage, Republicans again fight to defend millionaires from a small surtax while content to let middle class get hit with a tax hike, Republicans reject a bipartisan compromise that their own leaders praised.

  • bigtuna on December 19, 2011 10:07 AM:

    theAmericanist - right you are - counting in job 1 for a speaker. But Boner has only 3 options that I can see [summarized in the NYT]:

    1. Bring the vote to the floor, and watch his party kill tax breaks for real people, if only for 2 more months; He looks like he is a leader, but risks the Rs getting bad PR, and the insiders all know he has no power

    2. Bring to the floor, and watch [or allow ?? are there 20 sane republicans??] enough republicans cross over, and have the 2 month extension pass - and thus, showing he is not a leader

    3. Amend, with wingnut provisions and some lame funding mechanism, and have it pass, and hope to convince the senate to return to consider a house version [and according to the reports this am, senate dems do not want to come back - and this time, they have a 89-10 vote to tout as backup].

    I don't see him making a deal with that icky Nancy lady; so 2 is off; 1 seems pretty risky, and as of now, 3 won't fly procedurally.

    Before, however, on the budget stuff, it looked like Boner was exposed for the fool and tool that he is, and somehow he slipped out to remain Speaker. What is they dynamic here - do the wing nuts have about 100 votes - not enough to have their own as speaker? Do they know, deep down, that a wingnut speaker would flush them out for the fools they are? IS having Boner working ok for them, since they can manipulate him as needed? [In all cases, I assume that the default case is that the republicans no longer see the office of Speaker as contributing to governance of the nation, but simply advancing the cause of the white, wealthy, empowered money class].

  • Nick on December 19, 2011 10:32 AM:

    What Aggie Bee said ...

  • jz on December 19, 2011 10:54 AM:

    I for one am afraid that if the pub's and dem's keep being wishy washy and/or unsucessful at passing unemployment extensions again some desperate people (not me fortunately) out there especially with family's will do things they normally would not do to feed/support those family's. I believe crime related to unemployment circumstances is high and under-reported and sometimes not reported by the media at all.

  • square1 on December 19, 2011 10:58 AM:

    Am I going crazy? Isn't theAmericanist a Republican (I ask that not as an insult. But I thought theAmericanist had dropped by before and said so. Maybe I am confusing posters.)

    The reason I ask is that theAmericanist is entirely correct.

    During the Bush years, it was standard policy for the GOP to only put bills up for a vote when there was a "majority of a majority". Republicans can't enforce this rule with a Dem Senate and Dem WH, although they still strive for it.

    While Dems have no parliamentary power to force a House vote, they absolutely can put political pressure on Boehner for an up or down vote. Make Republicans vote against a tax cut.

    FWIW, I'm against the bill with the Keystone provision in it. If Republicans want to oppose unemployment benefits and tax cuts for middle class to kick off election year, they can go right ahead.

  • RalfW on December 19, 2011 11:04 AM:

    I'm rather thankful that Boehner appears to be one of the weakest, most ineffectual Speakers in modern history.

    For all the bloviating about how Republicans are strong and Democrats are wimpy, they sure have a doodle for a Speaker.

    Quoting Nelson from the Simpsons, "Ha-Ha."

  • SYSPROG on December 19, 2011 11:16 AM:

    I saw Connie Mack on the TV machine this morning and he was adamant that the House GOP was 'sick and tired of playing games' and they were gonna SHOW that old Senate! Of course, he is now RUNNING for the Senate so 'game playing' is all relative. Yes, Boner is ineffective but do you REALLY want Cantor as Speaker? Can you say 'JUST A REPLAY OF DELAY' ten times really fast?

  • chi res on December 19, 2011 11:35 AM:

    Not unlike some commenters here, republicans are happy to "go right ahead" and oppose payroll tax cuts and unemployment benefits.

    After all, if you've got a good job making good money, like a congressman or a lawyer, a couple grand a year, more or less, really doesn't make that much difference. And unemployment benefits are just for those too lazy to get a job.

    Empathy, schlympathy. I got mine.

  • zeitgeist on December 19, 2011 11:56 AM:

    all i can say is that Obama and congressional Dems better not make one more compromise just to get this passed. we will never have a better political situation than massive Republican support in the Senate then being blocked by the out-of-control Republicans in the House.

    go home on break and tell every local paper, every town hall, your entire e-mail list exactly what happened.

    Democrats wanted to make sure the middle class continued to get a break until the job market was back on its feet. The Republicans in the Senate tried to block it by attaching unrelated conditions, but President Obama successfully lead at least a short-term compromise so American families wouldn't have their Christmas ruined by Republican Grinches. But after the plan passed the Senate with broad, bipartisan support, the Tea-Party led Republican House rejected the bipartisan deal, killing the payroll tax break for working Americans and the extension of unemployment benefits in the middle of jobs crisis. They just gave every working American a lump of coal in their stockings, and then they went on holiday to celebrate. Every reasonable economist, including Republicans, has said ending the tax break will harm the economy that, under Obama's leadership, was starting to improve. So not only did the House Republicans steal Christmas, they took away the best chance for a happy new year as well.

    Then in 2012, bring this bill back up about once a month. See how close to the election House R's really want to push this. This is our single best chance to take back the House, which in the long run will do more for the middle class than compromising to get the bill passed will do.

  • square1 on December 19, 2011 12:07 PM:

    @chi res: Once again, chi res is the arbiter of what policy positions are acceptable to hold in the Democratic Party.

    I've already explained that I consider climate change to be the issue that I am most concerned about. Maybe you should study the issue some time. I would submit that both the human and economic costs of unchecked greenhouse gas emissions dwarf those of failing to extend unemployment benefits or the payroll tax cut. It isn't that I don't care about the immediate economic crisis, its that I care more about having a habitable planet in 20 to 100 years.

    Perhaps you do not believe that climate change is a threat that is both existential and immediate. Perhaps you are concerned about the problem, but you are not convinced that blocking the Keystone project, possibly only temporarily, would yield a significant enough benefit to justify the economic costs that standing up to the GOP may entail (I say may because there is always the possibility that the GOP is bluffing and will fold.)

    Whatever. You've made a different political calculation than I and I can respect that. What is unfortunate is that, once again, you show that you are incapable of respecting Democrats with different opinions.

    When YOU want Policy A and are willing to sacrifice Policy B, those who disagree are insufficiently pragmatic. But when I want Policy C and am willing to sacrifice Policy D, then I am insufficiently empathetic.

    Somehow, your opinion is not only always the most correct, it is also the most moral.

  • Registeredguest on December 19, 2011 12:11 PM:

    Seems no one recognizes the game the Repubs keep playing. It's like the used car salesman out on the lot. He has to go to the boss to see if the deal can be done. Nope sorry the boss says we can't do the deal can you give a little more, I'm sure he'll accept it.

    Obama and the dems keep giving a little more so why shouldn't the Repubs keep squeezing.

  • Texas Aggie on December 19, 2011 12:35 PM:

    Yesterday I saw that the House republicans are against the two month extension because that would mean they have to vote against a further extension just that much closer to the primaries. They know well that if they vote against it, which they fully intend to do, they will get hammered but good in the primaries. Therefore they don't want the conflict to be too close to elections.

    They argue now for a year extension, but they have no intention of actually voting for one. Instead they are going to attach impossible conditions and then blame the Democrats for not going along.

  • Bookkeeper on December 19, 2011 12:45 PM:

    Adding a different "uncertainty" to the discussion, payroll managers/bookkeepers/payroll software companies are probably tearing their hair out about now. I doubt the code is difficult but the amount/dates, etc. of the proposed cut will have to be implemented starting in 13 days. Since it's a percentage cut to Social Security and not Federal Withholding tables will make it a little easier. Besides the math there is a large amount of communication involved (sent out/received) to make sure it all gets done properly. But that's extra time and money for the Federal Gov't and employers everywhere. Beware to any who are not paying attention!

  • Texas Aggie on December 19, 2011 12:50 PM:

    Brenna said something that made me think. We keep hearing about how inept Obama is because he can't get both sides to come to an agreement. This is somehow a clinical sign that Obama needs to be replaced.

    Now we have Boehner who can't even get his own side to come to an agreement. Doesn't it make sense that if Boehner can't get his own side to agree to something, there is no way on God's good earth that Obama would be able to get both sides to agree to anything.

  • theAmericanist on December 19, 2011 1:09 PM:

    Square 1: I have liberal Democratic credentials out the wazoo. I also know what I'm talking about, which confuses people whose habits persuade them that is a contradiction.

    There is a larger framing issue here, which is why I keep suggesting the whole 'self-government' theme. There's an old line JFK liked, which is that in America people want the President to be above politics -- which is like expecting a bishop to be above religion. That's because politics connotes corrupt dealmaking.

    But "self-government" reminds us that We, the People are responsible. It's something to celebrate, and even have a little fun with.

    So my suggestion is that Ds develop the theme that we're popular, they're not. What we want to do is popular, but they're against it -- and what they want to do is UNpopular. So let's vote.

    A lot.

    That way, if we vote --we win, If we don't vote -- we win, because we're the ones who want Congress to vote: we're the majority, after all.

    This is difficult to frame in the Senate, because there the frame has slipped so that it is somehow reported as a Constitutional imperative (which it ain't) to get 60 votes. But Senate reform is a potentially enormously popular theme -- why isn't there a Democrat pledge that all Senate candidates would sign, to vote with 51 Senators to require "present and voting" for filibusters? To give any President an up-or-down vote on nominees within 60 days? Fercryinoutloud, we have partisan elections -- so MAKE them a choice.

    With the House, as the latest developing debacle shows, there is a real possibility to frame it so that people recognize it's the majority of the HOUSE, not the House's partisan majority, that should work its will: that's the Speaker's job. It really shouldn't be THAT hard to communicate it.

    We'd know it was working when the press would report on something like the payroll tax hike that a minority of 100 Rs in the House were keeping a large bipartisan majority made up of the OTHER 328 members from voting for something popular.

    As a practical matter, the key is the Rule -- in general, the majority party has to pass a Rule with its own votes, because that's what it means to be the majority in the House: you control the floor. If you cannot pass a Rule without the minority party's votes, you don't control the floor -- you have to give them the amendments they want to vote on, in the Rule.

    So Ds should turn that into an advantage: we do NOT want to vote on this, that, or the other thing -- a Democratic leader in the House could say "I count 270 votes for x, why are the Rs afraid to let the House decide?"

    That way, we'd know we were winning when Rs start to say:I don't care what the minority within my party thinks, we've got to the people's business....

  • Peter Pitchford on December 19, 2011 4:00 PM:

    The Republican House isn't really worried about kicking the can down the road. That's just a handy talking point. What really got their balls in an uproar was the idea that the expedited pipeline process would cause the pipeline to be rejected because it would be impossible to meet the environmental regulations. That's what this is about. You watch, what will come out is a longer extension of the tax break, sans expedited pipeline.

  • Jimo on December 19, 2011 4:08 PM:

    Still time for the Dems to get a backbone.

    12 mo. tax cut extension paid for by surtax on millionaires.

    If the GOP votes it down, fine - let them explain this to primary voters.

    This is another example of how trying to compromise with those who aren't interested in compromise produces sub-standard results.

    The GOP can follow the voters' wishes or oppose them. Why would Democrats want to muddy the waters?

  • TrollSupervisor on December 20, 2011 7:47 PM:

    TheAmericanist doesn't have liberal Democratic credentials. He has Democratic credentials. You can tell that he doesn't use these words carefully, or understand political ideology, based on the fact that he periodically says that he has "lefty credentials." I advise him to learn what the Left is and then explain how there is anything "lefty" or leftist about his support for capitalism, religion, nationalism and exceptionalism. This only works if "leftist" is equivalent to "Democratic," which it is not. And anyway, theAmericanist is nowhere near the liberal wing of the Democratic Party, which itself is nowhere near the Left in any definition that doesn't rob the term of all meaning.