It is not lost on Obama and Senate Democrats that Republicans now are divided on an issue -- tax cuts -- that used to split Democrats. “We need a partner in this,” said White House press secretary Jay Carney. Referring to the Senate compromise, Carney said: “We had a partner in this. Blowing up the process now is playing politics with the paychecks of 160 million Americans."
House Republicans know they like the bill they passed last week that extends the payroll tax cut for a full year, shortens the duration of jobless benefits next year (from a maximum of 99 weeks to 59 weeks), and provides a two-year “doc fix.” But that bill was ignored by the Democratic Senate.
The House bill offset the cost of all extensions – payroll-tax cut, Medicare reimbursement, and jobless benefits – with spending cuts that Democrats find unacceptable, especially those that would impose means-testing on upper-income Medicare recipients.
Republicans counter that the spending cuts were informally agreed on in the deficit-reduction super committee talks and in the negotiations between House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Vice President Joe Biden. Democrats argue those cuts were only viable if Republicans agreed to raise taxes. Since Republicans killed the 1.9 percent surtax on millionaires Democrats proposed to finance a one-year payroll tax cut extension, Democrats don’t feel bound by any previous spending cut agreements.
So it’s unclear what House Republicans would accept short of the House bill.
The White House is in no mood to concede further ground to Republicans, having already agreed to a 60-day decision timeline on the Keystone XL pipeline from Canada to the Gulf of Mexico. The White House also objects to House GOP efforts to strip out $43 billion for the health care law, and Senate Democrats disagree with efforts to increase Medicare premiums for seniors earning more than $80,000 in 2017.
In other words, the policy differences are vast, the sense of political antipathy acidic – even by low pH standards of contemporary politics, and the time remaining dwindling fast. Congress is stuck. House Republicans are the sticking agent, standing immovably on behalf of what they regard as solid principles, but which may prove politically hazardous.
It is up to the House GOP leaders to steer their conference to a compromise – one that can satisfy infuriated Senate Democrats and a White House that believes it dominates the public opinion high ground.
House Republicans think they are derailing the Senate bill. They are doing much more. They are placing upon their shoulders the responsibility to create a new outcome – one they cannot yet envision, define, or possibly even find the votes for internally to support.