House Republicans finally waved a white flag over the payroll tax cut extension this afternoon—but not before they’d given President Obama what The New Yorker’s John Cassidy aptly called an “early Christmas present.”Steve Benen offers his own assessment, in his Washington Monthly blog, of the GOP’s sudden caving:
And just the one he wanted and needed: a nice big boost to his re-election prospects. The White House’s crafty handling of the Tea Party’s latest hissy fit, along with Obama’s recent turn toward a more populist economic message, has boosted his approval ratings to 49 percent and given him a seven-point edge over his closest Republican rivals, Mitt Romney and Ron Paul, in one recent national poll. That’s basically the same lead he held over John McCain in the late stages of the 2008 general election. The standoff was doing so much damage to Republicans that even McCain and Gingrich and The Wall Street Journal had begun calling for House Republicans to give in--and in Gingrich’s words, “to do it calmly and pleasantly and happily.” But for the president’s purposes, of course, “grudgingly” is even better.
With nine days to go, it appears all but certain that the payroll tax break--as well as a clean extension of unemployment benefits--will be extended for two months. Between now and then, a conference committee will be tasked with working on a deal for a full-year extension.READ MORE: “Obama Benefits from Republican Civil War,” by Eugene Robinson (The Washington Post); “Why the Republican Crack-up Is Bad for America,” by Robert Reich; “Making Obama ‘a Legitimate Tax Cutter,” by Steve Benen (The Washington Monthly); “GOP’s Payroll Tax Cut Debacle Helps Dems with Moderates” (The Democratic Strategist).
What changed [John] Boehner’s mind? Or more accurately, what changed Boehner’s mind again? The Speaker, as recently as Saturday, wanted to pass the Senate compromise and send his caucus home for the holidays. They rebelled and the leader quickly became the follower.
By some accounts, this happened again today. House Republicans--Wisconsin’s Sean Duffy, Arkansas’ Rick Crawford, Pennsylvania’s Charlie Dent, among others--started breaking ranks after getting an earful in their local districts. GOP lawmakers who wanted to fight the Senate Braveheart-style came to the conclusion, “Maybe that Senate bill isn’t so bad after all.” When his members reversed course, the Speaker again took his cues from them, rather than the other way around.
If Boehner were a stronger, more effective House Speaker, this fiasco could have been easily avoided. He could have told his caucus this was a fight they were likely to lose, so passing the Senate bill quickly was the smart course of action. But he couldn’t--Boehner takes orders; he doesn’t give them.
It’s what helps make this story a disaster, not only for Republicans in general, but also for John Boehner personally. As he surrenders this afternoon, Boehner becomes The Speaker Who Has No Clothes.