Yesterday morning Republicans were resolute. Democrats were incensed. The president was toeing the line between compromise and censure. Everyone involved was giving signals that the year-end payroll tax cut package was doomed until after Washington’s Christmas vacation (see: Congress Pounds a Holly Stake Through Middle Class Hearts). By the end of the day, Republicans were talking capitulation, backing down from a stance from which there could be no backing down.
What happened yesterday is a PR nightmare for the GOP. Endless candidate debates over the past months showcased dissent within the party on everything from immigration to tax policy, but we could pass that off as campaign trail theatrics. There was little to mistake about the opposition of some Republican House members to the Senate’s temporary payroll tax cut fix. Georgia’s Rob Woodall rejected the Senate plan outright:
Instead, Senate Democrats amended it to include a short-term, two month extension of the tax cut – essentially kicking the can down the road to February. This is absolutely unacceptable and an incredibly irresponsible way to set tax policy.¹
South Carolina’s Joe Wilson had already used the same language to warn that:
On Saturday, the Senate amended this legislation to provide only for a two month quick fix, kicking the can further down the road, which will harm American taxpayers and small business owners.²
When the Senate came up with its temporary solution to passing the year-end mini-stimulus and House Republicans pressed their advantage there was no turning back. Despite earlier opposition to extending the payroll tax cut, Republicans had lived up to their words and killed the Senate’s bill in favor of their own solution. What was the GOP’s plan for saving face after it reversed its position? Democrats came out of this one looking slighted but victorious, while Republicans showed voters indecision and dissent.
Republicans would be wise to pay attention to how their Democratic opponents conduct themselves. We may not like what Democrats do. Their policies are ruining the economy and sustaining record unemployment, but Democrats are a party. They are a machine with a purpose. When they make up their minds to do something they do not waver, and as we saw with the health care bill, sometimes they can pull off the impossible.
Republicans have turned the GOP into a loose collection of conservatives with nowhere to go. This can be a good thing when the timing is right. The Tea Party stirred the pot last fall, and now we have headlines talking about Speaker Boehner instead of Speaker Pelosi. Those of us who would prefer not to go back to the Pelosi days only ask one thing of the GOP: get your $)_&@^#! act together. What happened this week was damaging and unnecessary. Republicans are going into an election year focusing on debt and spending cuts that will make this month’s middle class Christmas gift look like pocket change. If the party wants to negotiate and win they need a position to negotiate from, but first Republicans need to decide what their position is.
1..Congressman Rob Woodall. Georgia Republicans Oppose Irresponsible Tax Policy. December 21, 2011. http://woodall.house.gov/press-release/georgia-republicans-oppose-irresponsible-tax-policy, retrieved December 23, 2011.
2..U.S. Congressman Joe Wilson. Wilson Encourages the Senate to Take Immediate Action on the Payroll Tax Extension. December 20, 2011. http://joewilson.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=273354, retrieved December 23, 2011.