When it comes to the end-of-session loggerheads, what's important to understand is that Congress isn't simply "dysfunctional," as it's blithely labeled, but it's being torn by forces that are real, historic, and unlikely to abate even with the 2012 election.
On Friday it seemed plausible to think that Congress was done for the year, save for House approval of extending the payroll-tax cut and unemployment insurance—but there were hints of surging discontent.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., on Friday said that he "couldn't imagine close to full support" in the House for a two-month extension.
On Saturday, annoyed House Republicans revealed the extent of their anger in a call in which they made clear to Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, what they had told House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, R-Va., and Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., on Friday: A two-month extension is a cop-out.
Rep. Dennis Ross, R-Fla., later said: "I can't accept the Senate version of the bill and I think the majority of us Republicans can't accept it."
By Sunday, the speaker had gotten the message. He declared that Congress should assemble a formal conference committee to hash out a deal in regular order.
"We've got to two weeks to get this done," Boehner said on Meet the Press. "Let's do it the right way."
That didn't sit well with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.
Reid negotiated the deal with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after Boehner departed the talks, challenging the Senate leaders to produce a plan.
"When we met last week, Speaker Boehner requested that Senator McConnell and I work out a compromise," Reid stated. "Neither side got everything they wanted, but we forged a middle ground that passed the Senate by an overwhelming bipartisan majority."
Reid spokesman Adam Jentleson later said that Reid "is happy to continue negotiating a yearlong extension as soon as the House passes the Senate's short-term, bipartisan compromise."
McConnell, caught between supporting a deal he brokered and standing by Boehner, struck a middle ground in his post-deal breakdown statement.
"The House and Senate have both passed bipartisan bills to require the President to finally make a decision on the Keystone XL jobs," McConnell spokesman Don Stewart said. "The House and the President both want a full-year extension. The best way to resolve the difference … is through regular order, as the Speaker suggested."
The emerging consensus among Republicans is to take the Senate's two-month bill and the House's one-year measure to conference and fight over the extension's duration and how to pay for it. House Republicans believe they extracted a huge concession from Senate Democrats when they dropped the "millionaire's surtax" as the payment method. A senior House GOP aide familiar with the emerging strategy summarized the situation thusly: "We have to get out of the cul-de-sac of the Senate only being able to produce the lowest-common denominator and then trying to force a terrible product on the House."