That sound you hear in Washington is ... silence.
The Senate is gone. The House has left behind a few stragglers to sit on a conference committee that may never meet. The president’s still around but itching to go to Hawaii to be with his family. Christmas is coming. Hanukkah is here.
The decision by House Republicans to deep-six a bipartisan deal to extend a payroll tax cut has left that party divided and given Democrats an issue with which to hammer them throughout the holidays. House leaders insist theirs is the principled stand because they want a year-long extension, not a two-month one.
But right now, they are hearing it from all sides, including the influential Wall Street Journal editorial board, no friend to Democrats.
“GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected. Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the president before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest,” the board wrote Wednesday.
“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.”
But, the board laments, it’s real. And it urges the House GOP to cut its losses and strike a bargain quickly lest the Democrats and Obama get any more mileage out of the issue than they already have. The board also seems to condemn the “tea party House,” as it puts it, for alienating the public from the GOP and putting Democrats in a stronger position for 2012 than a year ago, calling it a “circular firing squad.”
Boehner, who is bearing the brunt of the criticism, plans to hold a photo-op Wednesday for his House conferees. The problem is that Senate leaders, including top Republican McConnell, have yet to appoint any members on their side to meet with their House colleagues to hammer out a deal. So there’s no conference for the conferees at which to confer.
Democrats are, of course, loving it. But there’s a risk for them, too. If taxes go up on 160 million Americans next month, no one is going to escape blame. (Not to mention that unemployment benefits are set to expire for thousands.) In the meantime, the White House is reminding people that they stand to lose $40 a week next year if the payroll tax cut extension doesn’t go through.
Obama strategist David Plouffe sent a memo to the president’s supporters Tuesday after the House rejected the Senate compromise, providing some insight into how the White House (and Obama’s reelection machine) are playing the issue.
“Here’s part of the problem: A lot of people in Washington don’t understand what these tax cuts mean. A typical family gets about $40 with each paycheck from this tax cut, and opponents look at that and argue it doesn’t have an impact,” Plouffe wrote.
“Just today, one House Republican referred to this debate as ‘high-stakes poker.’ He’s right about the high-stakes, but he’s dead wrong about the poker. This is not a game.
“We know better -- $40 has tangible benefits for millions of families,” he wrote.
Wednesday, the administration plans to keep the drumbeat going with a conference call with reporters that features a Miami small business owner who will talk about how the tax cut would benefit his employees. It’s a bid to fan the flames and keep the story going.
As it does, the squabbling is likely to sour the public even more on this Congress, if that’s possible considering its bottom-basement approval ratings. Last year, the lame duck 2010 Congress closed on a high note, extending the Bush-era tax cuts and ending the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy barring gays and lesbians from openly serving in the military. This time around, there appears to be no glory in sight.