Republicans Turning On Their Own Amidst Payroll Tax Fiasco

Some Republicans are starting to realize just how badly the House GOP has messed up this time.

The Wall Street Journal is out this morning with an absolutely blistering editorial about the manner in which the House GOP has mishandled the Payroll Tax Cut debate:

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 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.


After a year of the tea party House, Mr. Obama and Senate Democrats have had to make no major policy concessions beyond extending the Bush tax rates for two years. Mr. Obama is in a stronger re-election position today than he was a year ago, and the chances of Mr. McConnell becoming Majority Leader in 2013 are declining.

At this stage, Republicans would do best to cut their losses and find a way to extend the payroll holiday quickly. Then go home and return in January with a united House-Senate strategy that forces Democrats to make specific policy choices that highlight the differences between the parties on spending, taxes and regulation. Wisconsin freshman Senator Ron Johnson has been floating a useful agenda for such a strategy. The alternative is more chaotic retreat and the return of all-Democratic rule.

House Republicans are increasingly been left out on their own in this debate. Over on the Senate side, Scott Brown, Dean Heller, Olympia Snowe and Richard Lugar, and Bob Corker have all said the that House should pass the Senate bill and then come back after the New Year and work out the terms needed to extended the cut for a full year.  Last night on CNN, John McCain warned the House GOP that they were hurting the Republican Party:

Perhaps most significant in all of this, though, is who we aren’t hearing from:

Speaker John Boehner stood before a band of fellow House Republicans on Tuesday and angrily demanded the Senate return to the Capitol and extend the payroll tax cut for a full year.

Left out of the photo op: Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the co-architect of the Senate’s two-month tax cut extension. He reached an agreement that has become a throbbing political headache for Boehner and has remained unusually silent as the partisan rancor and gridlock cause a year-end embarrassment for Congress.

While the two men have been remarkably united this year, the year-end package has prompted an unusual amount of confusion, disunity, frustration and increased finger-pointing, both publicly and privately, between House Republicans and Senate Republicans over who is at fault in the political fiasco.


The rebellion among House Republicans against the Senate has put McConnell in an awkward position as well. He faces criticism from the GOP rank and file for cutting a deal they don’t like and fierce attacks from Senate Democrats for not voicing support for his own proposal. In the meantime, at least a half-dozen members from McConnell’s own conference are publicly voicing concern over the House GOP’s decision to block the Senate plan.

While McConnell has publicly backed Boehner through a spokesman on Sunday, he hasn’t engaged in the full-throated attacks on Democrats — or calls for the Senate to reconvene — that many in the House have. Instead, he’s quietly huddled back home in Louisville, including spending some time at the McConnell Center at the University of Louisville.

In other words, McConnell is currently content to let Boehner and the House GOP take the heat for this one, partly at least because he still sees the possibility of Senate gains in 2012 and doesn’t want to jeopardize them. You’ll notice, for example, that with the exception of McCain, all of the Senators who have spoken out against the House GOP’s actions are up for election in 2012. No doubt the Senate GOP Caucus feels that it has done its job here, they got an extension passed and included a provision requiring that a decision be made on the Keystone XL Pipeline before the 2012 election, something Republicans have been pushing for months. Additionally, McConnell might well be frustrated by Boehner’s inability to once again control his caucus, a problem that McConnell has never really had in the four years he has led the Senate Republican Caucus. If the House Republicans are going to get out of this mess, it’s not be because Mitch McConnell came to their rescue and suddenly opposed a bill he personally negotiated and that nearly every Republican in the Senate voted for.

Major Garrett posits five scenarios under which this standoff can resolve itself:

HOUSE GOP BLINKS: House Republicans see the futility of fighting President Obama the week before Christmas and agree to the Senate’s two-month payroll-tax cut extension on one condition: Senate Democrats agree to go to conference on a full, one-year payroll tax extension with spending cut offsets by Feb. 1. Senior House GOP aides would not say if this is under active consideration but would not rule it out. John Harwood of CNBC and The New York Times first reported this possibility. Probability: 50 percent.

IT ALL EXPIRES: The payroll-tax holiday expires on Jan. 1, as do jobless benefits for more than 2 million workers, while Medicare doctors see a 27 percent cut in their reimbursements. Public pressure and outrage galvanize quickly, prompting Congress to return in early January and cut a hurried deal to address all three issues. Probability: 30 percent.

MORE GIMMICKS: House Republicans and Senate Democrats fall prey to the temptation to use “savings” from the Overseas Contingency Operations (Iraq and Afghanistan war funding), built into the Congressional Budget Office baseline budget and offset the costs of a one-year payroll tax cut, jobless benefits, and blocking the Medicare reimbursement pay cut for doctors. Probability: 10 percent.

SENATE DEMOCRATS GIVE IN: House Republicans stick to their guns, stay in Washington in small numbers this week and next, hector Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid until he relents, appoints a conference committee, and enables negotiators to swiftly reach a compromise. Probability: 5 percent

HOUSE BACKS DOWN: House Republicans cave entirely and pass the Senate’s two-month payroll-tax cut extension next week. Probability: 5 percent.

I think Garrett has it about right. House Republicans are going to pull back from the brink, long before the President or Harry Reid give in, and they will go into the 2012 damaged politically because of an incredibly dumb political maneuver. The only other likely outcome is that the tax cut, and unemployment benefits, expire completely, in which case the GOP will suffer even more. The way out of this is rather obvious, whether they’ll see it is another question.

FILED UNDER: 2012 Election, Congress, Taxes, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. mantis says:

    Hey, they got the important stuff done: commissioning a bust of Winston Churchill to replace the one Obama tossed in the trash (except he didn’t), and imagining themselves as modern day William Wallaces in a Braveheart-themed rally session to gear them up to screw the middle class again.

    Oh yeah, and when Steny Hoyer tried to bring up the Senate’s payroll tax cut extension for a vote in the House today, the GOP ran away and demanded C-SPAN cut the feed so the American public won’t see what craven little shitheads they are.

    Yes, they did that.

    Why would any intelligent adult vote for a Republican?

  2. James in LA says:

    Ah, now comes the odor of Schism. My conservative friends had three years to unite and make peace with the awful state of affairs they were handed by W in 2008. Instead, they now have zero governing accomplishments on which to run next year, combined with a sense that the GOP is presently out of control, able only to conjure failed ghosts to run for President.

    Mitch McConnell is a seasoned hand. Let us see how he reacts to the rank betrayal of the Speaker.

    Worse, heading into an election year, with the electoral map against them, my conservative friends cannot now snap their fingers and invent any reason they should be elected. It’s going to take more than KENYAN! and He Is The Worst (insert words to substitute for the word we would like to say but polite society doesn’t yet let us. Yet.).

    One predicts a third party heralding an Obama landslide.

  3. legion says:

    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.

    I think this will go down as one of the stupidest political promises ever. When McConnell said this, what I heard was: “If you proles even _think_ of re-electing that Kenyan, we will f*ck you. We will f*ck you so hard the bed will get pregnant. And you won’t be able to get it a morning-after pill. We will destroy this nation if we can’t be in charge of it.”

    Americans tend not to respond well to those sorts of threats. I think it’s the main reason Congress’ approval ratings are lower than Rush Limbaugh’s belt. They telegraphed their punch – do absolutely _nothing_ and blame it all on Obama. And it looks like even the US electorate is seeing through that veil of slime.

  4. Peter says:

    *John McCain warned the House GOP that they were hurting the Republican Party*

    It’s mainly the country they are hurting.

  5. WR says:

    And what the Rs have done now is destroy the only rationale their party has — except, of course, “we hate the black guy in the White House.” Until now they could claim that all the damage they’ve done to the country is in the name of the one thing they claim will save it: cutting taxes. Now they’re making their last stand opposing lower taxes for the middle class as they fight for huge tax cuts for billionaires.

    What non-billionaire will be dumb enough to vote for them after this?

    I mean, except for Tea Partiers, who are apparently dumb enough to fall for anything…

  6. Liberty60 says:

    Some Republicans are starting to notice the monster they have created.

    Has nayone noticed that within the conservative world, there truly is never any limit to extremism in the defense of liberty conservatism?

    They have created a culture in which nothing is too extreme, no view too hard core, too reductionist, too out there to be declared out of bounds.

    Where a Presidential candidate can joke about bombing Iran, or others can half seriously talk about alligators and moats, where audiences cheer letting people die for lack of care.

    And then they seem puzzled how this leads to a rabid madness.

  7. mike says:

    Newt with his family values will save the party. If only he had some family values. I assume if he is the nominee, the republicans will stop acting like they are the guidon bearer for family values and all that is moral.

  8. Gold Star for Robot Boy says:

    “We will f*ck you so hard the bed will get pregnant.”

    Can I say I love this line? Because I love this line.

  9. Moosebreath says:


    “*John McCain warned the House GOP that they were hurting the Republican Party*

    It’s mainly the country they are hurting.”

    Yes, but that’s not necessarily a disincentive for most Republicans.

  10. Liberty60 says:

    But he DOES have family values!

    3 of them at last count.

    I mean, do you love your country so much that you have to bed a young staffer? Huh?

  11. mattb says:

    The only thing missing from Garrett’s scenarios is the question of if and when Cantor opts to challenge Boehner for the speakership. It seems to me that if the orange man ends up appearing to eat crow on this one, it may be the final nail is his coffin with the Tea Party base.

    And if Cantor does take over the position in time for the 2012 elections… its hard to imagine that not being a gift to dems.

  12. Jib says:

    Boehner is gone. To me its clear he thought he had a deal. Either he failed to keep his own caucus in the loop or he was screwed by Cantor and company telling him the votes were there when they were not. Either way, he is no longer able to be speaker.

    I think it is likely that Cantor screwed him. True, it is the whips job to get the votes but counting votes is a basic skill required of all congressional leaders regardless of party or ideology. Boehner should not need Cantor to know what his own caucus is thinking.

    Now if Cantor honestly mis-counted the votes, that would be amazing. He is suppose to be a tea party leader and that would mean he had no idea what the tea party wants. So I have to believe he knew the deal would fail but he told Boehner differently.

    I am amazed at how low basic political skills have fallen. Ideology aside, this is rank incompetence.

  13. mattb says:

    I tend to agree with everything stated above. Especially given the fact that its been long reported by insiders on both sides of the aisle that Cantor’s been eying the speakership for a while.

    Remember that the last time there was this sort of insurgence led by someone on the right we ended up with Newt as speaker. As I said, if Boehner falls to Cantor, it’s going to be a huge gift to Obama, because Cantor will only tack the house further to the confrontational right (just in time for the election).

  14. ponce says:

    The Wall Street Journal seem oblivious to the fact that a huge majority of Americans support raising taxes on the rich to ease our budget problems.

    Considering who has a grip on their short hairs, there is no position on taxes that the Republicans are able to take that will make them more popular with America.

  15. mantis says:


    I think the House easily had enough votes to pass the bill from the Senate, because all of the Democrats were committed to it and that means they would only need a couple dozen Republican ayes. My guess is Boehner made promises without consulting the Tea Party reps (with Cantor as their leader), and they revolted, demanding he not bring it to a vote.

    They refuse to allow a vote on the Senate version not because it wouldn’t pass, but because it would.

  16. legion says:

    @Gold Star for Robot Boy: Shucks, I’m blushing 🙂

  17. legion says:


    I think it is likely that Cantor screwed him.

    Ditto. Cantor wants the Speaker’s job so bad it drips from his pores like thick cream. There is absolutely nothing he wouldn’t do to make the next step on the ladder, and I have no problem believing he’d lie right to Boehner’s face.

  18. michael reynolds says:

    *John McCain warned the House GOP that they were hurting the Republican Party*

    It’s mainly the country they are hurting.

    Yes, but they don’t care about the country, only the party.

  19. Jib says:

    @mantis: Yes, I know. That is the point. The leader of a caucus is leader because the majority of the caucus voted for him. He has to know how the majority of his caucus will vote. He has to.

    Since the leaders of the repub caucus are also the leadership of the whole house, they control what bills are voted on by the whole house. They can go against their caucus on this. In the past speakers have cut deals that the majority of their own caucus would not support but they did it knowing it would win with the other parties vote and they went ahead and brought the bill before the house.

    It does not happen often since if you do it too often you will not be elected speaker again. Only strong speakers can pull it off. Boehner clearly is not strong enough to pull this off.

  20. mantis says:


    The leader of a caucus is leader because the majority of the caucus voted for him. He has to know how the majority of his caucus will vote. He has to.

    Indeed. I just thought it worth pointing out the problem here probably wasn’t lack of votes. They had the votes. They just don’t have the leadership, as you note, that can deal with the caucus to get them to swallow a bitter pill, even when they get to vote no.

    The inmates are running the asylum in the House. Boehner is in control of nothing but his tan (to the max!).

  21. ponce says:

    Why would any intelligent adult vote for a Republican?

    Because they think they are better than most Americans.

  22. lunaticllama says:

    The only things Republicans botched is the politics. The explicit goals of the Republican party is to raise taxes on the middle class, and cut government programs that help the middle and lower classes, so there’s enough budget room to cut rich people’s taxes, and give free money to corporations.

    I am not surprised at all. Republicans are pursuing their stated agenda. Granted, it’s incredibly unpopular, so usually they try to hide the ball a bit better.

  23. ponce says:

    In his book “The Seven Pillars of Wisdom” T.A. Lawrence said the periodic rise of fanatical Islamists in the Muslim world are always defeated eventually because the regular Muslims get sick of their extremism.

    Looks like the same thing is happening to the fanatical Republicans.