Last December, inexplicably, Republicans handed President Obama a most beautiful political gift. They extended the president's payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance for only two months rather than the whole year. Why? So they could protect their millionaire friends from a 3% surtax on income over $1 million.
So of course, with amazing political malpractice, John Boehner and the Republicans handed to the president and he Democrats a golden goose - the chance to re-argue the case for extending these benefits to help working Americans and Americans looking for work in just two short months, a debate the president and the Democrats have already decidedly won.
And so here it comes. The two months are almost up, the Republicans are refusing to agree on any revenue raisers and arguing for cutting critical support from programs for the elderly, poor and job-seekers, and Democrats are putting the squeeze on. The result? The Republicans folded like a cheap wallet on the payroll tax cut; offering to extend it without any pay-fors.
“Because the president and Senate Democratic leaders have not allowed their conferees to support a responsible bipartisan agreement, today House Republicans will introduce a backup plan that would simply extend the payroll tax holiday for the remainder of the year while the conference negotiations continue,” Boehner, House Majority Leader Eric I. Cantor (R-Va.) and House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said in a joint statement.Poor babies.
What's cuter is that the GOP thinks that it is also playing a nice game of chicken here - they are only offering this deal on the payroll tax relief, but not on the other two critical items - extension of unemployment insurance benefits and preventing a severe cut on Medicare payments (known as a doc fix).
Too bad they can't play chess. The White House has not committed to the GOP package (of course the president will sign a stand-alone extension if it gets to that, but they're not ready to show that yet - instead, they are building up pressure), and Congressional Democrats are emboldened. They are turning up the heat.
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined in a statement to say whether she would support the new Repbulican proposal, though she noted that Democrats have long favored extending the payroll tax without finding spending cuts to offset the cost.Boehner has managed to please no one - people who want a payroll tax cut extension also want unemployment benefit to be extended - while angering his "base" (for caving). He won't get any political benefits from holding back unemployment insurance, while Obama will get credit for rescuing the payroll tax cut. Taking the payroll tax cut out of the equation also leaves less to pay for in the remaining package, and an agreement may be easier to reach.
But Pelosi splashed cold water on separating jobless benefits and the doc-fix from the payroll tax holiday.
“The Republican plan to decouple the payroll tax jeopardizes both the ability of seniors to see their Medicare doctors and benefits for millions of Americans who lost their jobs,” she said in the statement. “There is no reason all three of these priorities cannot proceed at the same time as both the House and Senate agreed.
In other words, this is story number 654826 of John Boehner being punked by Barack Obama.