Heretofore, I have refrained from writing about the current battle in Washington over the so-called payroll tax holiday. I considered it to be the same old song and dance at the end of the year, with a deal to be worked out at the last minute. From all of the indications coming out of Washington last week, it appeared that the Republicans were getting the upper hand in the public relations battle. We were led to believe they would be voting a year-long extension to the aforementioned payroll tax holiday and would be leaving town for the holidays. This would force the Senate to accept what they had been given and everyone would be happy, sort of. As it turns out, not so much.
You see, the Senate was not happy with those prospects, so they passed their own bill, providing for a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut. The Democrats in the Senate pulled a fast one on the House GOP, but it should be noted that they had the help of 39 Republican Senators. To top that off, they used the same tactic the House was set to use; ie. they left town. Needless to say, that didn’t set well with the Republicans in the House.
As I was driving home last evening, I was listening to Jamie Dupree on the Neal Boortz show and he had an interesting observation. When the Senate passed their bill, they apparently did so with the assurance that Speaker John Boehner would go along with it. There is every indication that the Speaker was willing to support their two-month extension, just to get along and get out of town. However, there was a conference call that took place between the GOP leadership and some of its rank and file. It seems that call was not a very nice call. Afterwards, the Speaker came out and said the House would not vote on the Senate bill. Instead, they will vote to formally go to conference with the Senate, ostensibly to resolve the differences between the two pieces of legislation. He mentioned something about not being able to form tax policy for only two months.
Since I am not privy to insider information, and am not likely to be so, allow me to speculate for a few moments. From what I heard from Jamie Dupree, and from reading the different accounts of what has been taking place, I think we are seeing a full-blown revolt from the rank and file Republicans in the House. Consider this, from CNN:
“I negotiated a compromise (with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky) at Speaker Boehner’s request. I will not reopen negotiations until the House follows through and passes this agreement that was negotiated by Republican leaders and supported by 90 percent of the Senate,”[Harry] Reid said.
From that statement, it would seem that Speaker Boehner was indeed willing to go along with the Senate’s version of a payroll tax cut extension. In fact, he seems to have praised it during the weekend conference call.
Boehner appears to have reversed himself since a conference call with caucus members Saturday, when he was the only House Republican leader to express support for the Senate plan, according to a GOP source.
The source said Boehner described the Senate vote as “a good deal” and “a victory” in the conference call. For his part, the speaker insisted Monday that he raised concerns about the Senate plan “from the moment I heard of it.”
Boehner said he only praised a provision in the Senate bill requiring presidential action on the Keystone pipeline.
“The rank-and-file members are extremely opposed” to the Senate plan, a GOP source stressed, adding that most members were concerned with the uncertainty caused by just a two-month extension, as well as the political benefit the White House could gain in the national dialogue over taxes.
This is really very simple to understand. Boehner was working behind the scenes to reach an agreement and thought he had something he could work with. He now has some major bite marks on his backside because the members of his caucus, indeed some of the leaders of that caucus, have rejected the deal. In effect, they are saying no thanks and are refusing to budge. No matter how much the Speaker may want this deal to be finished and to get out of town, conservative members of his own party are saying enough is enough. They are refusing to go along with his plan and by doing so are causing a major ruckus in Congress.
Some congressional experts may look at this revolt as a bad thing. While I can not claim the mantle of congressional expert, I will say this. For far too long, the rank and file members of Congress have been sidelined by their leadership. Unless these members toe the line the leaders have drawn in the sand, they can expect to accomplish nothing. No committee memberships will be forthcoming and certainly no leadership roles. It appears that these members have decided they have had enough. They are standing their ground and are using the only tool they have left, their vote. Funny how that works. If the rank and file refuse to vote for what the leadership wants, then where does that leave the leadership?
I am not a fan of stalemate. Generally speaking, it accomplishes nothing, but I hope the revolt continues. There are some members who want to discontinue the payroll tax cut altogether, saying it hasn’t worked. I would tend to agree with that assessment. If you disagree, I would ask you to consider this. How do you suppose the Senate proposed to pay for their two-month extension of the payroll tax cut? They were going to raise mortgage fees for those mortgages that are administered by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It is also worth noting that the fee increases were going to be in place for ten years. To pay for a two-month extension. So some of the same people who would benefit from the payroll tax cut were going to be giving some of it back, in the form of higher mortgage fees. For ten years. Chew on that for a while and then tell me the rank and file members shouldn’t revolt. If you ask me, the rank and file Democrats should join them. Maybe then they could shake things up enough to get something done that actually counts.