J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Even as he defended his House GOP's increasingly isolated stance against a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut holiday, Speaker John Boehner on Thursday was finding the ground under his feet continuing to shift.
Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Kentucky Republican and Senate minority leader who had been relatively quiet until Thursday, issued a news release in which he urged House Republicans to relent and accept the two-month extension.
But in an attempt to help House Republicans save face, McConnell also asked Senate Democrats to name a group of senators to sit down and negotiate with the House GOP for a year-long payroll tax agreement.
"Leader Reid should appoint conferees on the long-term bill and 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."
House Republicans have said they opposed the short-term extension because they favored a longer, year-long extension.
Before McConnell's statement hit email inboxes Thursday, Boehner showed no signs of backing down. In a brief appearance in the House Press Gallery's studio, he said:
"A one year bill, like the president requested and like the House produced, is simply better for jobs and better for our economy. A one year bill provides, on average, about $1,000 for American workers as opposed to the Senate bill which would provide a measly $166."
Actually, all the players say they'd like a year-long extension. The sticking point, however, has been how to pay for it, with Republicans demanding spending cuts to programs that benefit middle and lower income Americans while Democrats have wanted taxes to be increased on households reporting gross adjusted income of $1 million or more.
Last weekend, it appeared a deal had been struck, with Boehner leaving the White House and McConnell with the strong impression the House would pass the two-month extension. Such an extension was passed by the nearly evenly split Senate with a supermajority vote of 89-10.
The Senate bill would also extend long-term unemployment insurance and keep a reduction in Medicare payments to doctors from taking effect. Republicans won an agreement in the bill from President Obama to expedite his decision on the environmentally controversial Keystone XL pipeline project to transport energy from Canada to the Gulf Coast states.
That apparently fell through during the same weekend when some House Republicans balked in a conference call with Boehner (some members of the House GOP have opposed a payroll-tax extension, period.)
The result has been a growing public-relations disaster for the House Republicans, with conservative fixtures accusing them of shooting themselves, and the party overall, in the foot while boosting President Obama and congressional Democrats.
An editorial in The Wall Street Journal Wednesday said congressional Republicans had formed a "circular firing squad" and urged them to "cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly."
Karl Rove, once President George W. Bush's top political strategist, echoed that advice. The House GOP could bash Democrats for not agreeing to a year-long extension before leaving town even as Republican lawmakers voted for the shorter extension, Rove said on Fox News Wednesday.
ROVE: "Use if for political theater then vote the two month extension and get out of town. They've lost the optics on it."
But House Republicans, particularly the freshmen, many of whom won with Tea Party support, didn't seem inclined to take that counsel. Politico.com reported that House GOP freshmen gave few indications of reconsidering. An excerpt from the story which quotes Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA).
"We're $15 trillion dollars in debt and these people are telling you this is how you should run your business? Give me a break. These people need to get out of here. They drink the Potomac water and they get infected," he said.
That may be true. But it's clear that a number of Republicans skilled in getting and keeping power see this as a matter of preferring drinking Potomac water than a certain politically dangerous kind of Tea Party Kool-Aid.