Over the past few days many pundits have noted the deafening silence of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who was instrumental in coming up with the bipartisan payroll tax extension passed overwhelmingly by the Senate — and rejected by the Tea Party-influenced Republican House. Today Speaker of the House John Boehner held a press conference where he essentially said they House is standing its ground.
Shortly after McConnell broke his silence. But the question is whether Boehner will pay any attention:
In a blow to House Republicans, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has called on the House to pass a two-month payroll tax extension — while pushing Democrats to negotiate a full year extension of the tax break.
McConnell’s statement came just 30 minutes after Speaker John Boehner pledged that he and House Republicans weren’t backing down from their push for a one year extension of the tax, which expires Dec. 31.
cConnell also asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to appoint conferees to negotiate a long term version of the bill.
“The House should pass an extension that locks in the thousands of Keystone XL pipeline jobs, prevents any disruption in the payroll tax holiday or other expiring provisions, and allows Congress to work on a solution for the longer extensions,” McConnell said in a Thursday statement.
McConnell’s move would seem to undercut Boehner, who stood with his top leaders and a handful of other Republicans earlier this morning to pressure Democrats to come back to the negotiating table.
“The fact is, we can do better,” Boehner told reporters at a news conference Thursday morning. “Americans are still asking the question, ‘where are the jobs?’ It’s time for us to sit down and have a serious negotiation and solve this problem so that American workers don’t see their taxes go up in January.”
President Barack Obama, congressional Democrats and many Republicans both in and outside Congress have called on House Republicans to pass the Senate’s version of the payroll tax cut extension, which lasts two months.
Michigan Rep. Dave Camp, one of Boehner’s eight picks to the conference committee that Democrats have yet to join, said on CNBC that Republicans could consider a three-month extension of the payroll tax holiday as a compromise.
Meanwhile, Republican political maven Karl Rove has chimed in and is another one who is not a fan of Boehner’s the House’s handling of the issue:
You know it’s bad for Republicans when Karl Rove says it’s time to cave and move on.
The former political adviser to President George W. Bush said Wednesday that the famously conservative Wall Street Journal editorial page was right when it said House Republicans should cut their losses and agree with a bipartisan Senate plan to extend for just two months the payroll tax cut enacted last year.
Republicans “have lost the optics on it,” Rove told Fox News, “the question now is how do the Republicans get out of it.”
So is this necessarily helping Obama? No, says Ezra Klein:
The conventional wisdom in Washington is that Republicans are losing the payroll tax fight, and bad. And, for the moment, that’s true. The issue has pitted Senate Republicans against House Republicans, business conservatives against tea partiers, and everybody against Speaker John Boehner. But the fact of the matter is, not all Republicans are losing this one. Mitt Romney, in particular, owes Boehner — and his more intransigent members — a fruit basket.
Here’s what we know about divided government: Voters don’t care about it. In a 2001 study, political scientists Richard Nadeau and Michael Lewis-Beck looked at 40 years of presidential elections to try and understand how voters assigned blame for economic conditions in times of divided government. The answer? The same way they do when the president’s party controls the government. They blame the president: “The presidential office is viewed as the command post of the economy, irrespective of whether the president actually has sufficient control of Congress to implement his or her economic plan.”
A 1999 study by Helmut Norpoth reached a similar conclusion: “When it comes to economic policy, it is the President, not Congress, that the electorate holds responsible.”
The likelihood? Some kind of settlement — perhaps three months. ABC’s Jonathan Karl sees the same outcome:
My prediction: House Republicans will eventually cave in and accept the two-month extension of the payroll tax cut passed last week by the Senate.
I base this on conversations with House Republicans who know they are losing the public relations battle and losing it badly. They know they are taking the blame for a stand-off that threatens to raise taxes on 160 million Americans. And they cannot let that happen.
As one top House Republican aide just told me: “I do not expect taxes to go up on January 1st.”
At this point, there is really only one way for taxes not to go up on January 1st: House Republicans need to fold. Democrats won’t give in because they are completely confident that House Republicans will take the blame for the impasse. And Republicans don’t disagree.
Republicans are now searching for a face-saving way to give up. The most likely scenario would be for Democrats to agree to negotiations on a full-year extension to begin as soon as next week – but only after the House passes the two-month extension.
House Republicans find themselves in a political disastrous position. They are almost entirely alone in this stand-off. Not only did the Senate pass the two-month extension with overwhelming Republican support (only seven Senate Republicans voted no), but several prominent Republicans, including Scott Brown and John McCain, have called on the House to pass the bill.
But — so far, at least — no sign can be seen of Republican folding.
UPDATE: Steve Benen:
As a practical matter, McConnell was throwing his support to the same proposal Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) offered House GOP leaders earlier in the week — after the House approves the Senate-approved bipartisan compromise, senators can start the next round of negotiations over a year-long extension.
The timing of McConnell’s announcement was rather remarkable. House Republican leaders, including Speaker Boehner, had just wrapped up a press conference on the Hill, telling reporters that the House GOP caucus won’t give in, won’t pass the temporary extension, and won’t do anything until a conference committee convenes (the conference committee would invariably kill the tax cut).
McConnell, almost immediately after Boehner wrapped up his remarks, cut the legs out from underneath the House GOP leadership and sided with Harry Reid’s proposed solution.
I honestly can’t remember the last time we saw a Senate Republican leader and a House Republican leader this far apart on a high-profile policy dispute. Everything about McConnell’s new statement appears intended to smack Boehner down, just as the Speaker tries to find his footing.
It’s remarkable, and further isolates the radicalized House GOP caucus.