GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell famously said a year ago that his main task in the 112th Congress was to make sure that President Obama would not be re-elected.
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Given how he and House Speaker John Boehner have handled the payroll tax debate, we wonder if they might end up re-electing the President before the 2012 campaign even begins in earnest.
The GOP leaders have somehow managed the remarkable feat of being blamed for opposing a one-year extension of a tax holiday that they are surely going to pass. This is no easy double play.
Republicans have also achieved the small miracle of letting Mr. Obama position himself as an election-year tax cutter, although he's spent most of his Presidency promoting tax increases and he would hit the economy with one of the largest tax increases ever in 2013. This should be impossible.
House Republicans yesterday voted down the Senate's two-month extension of the two-percentage-point payroll tax holiday to 4.2% from 6.2%. They say the short extension makes no economic sense, but then neither does a one-year extension. No employer is going to hire a worker based on such a small and temporary decrease in employment costs, as this year's tax holiday has demonstrated. The entire exercise is political, but Republicans have thoroughly botched the politics.
Their first mistake was adopting the President's language that he is proposing a tax cut rather than calling it a temporary tax holiday. People will understand the difference--and discount the benefit.
Republicans also failed to put together a unified House and Senate strategy. The House passed a one-year extension last week that included spending cuts to offset the $120 billion or so in lost revenue, such as a one-year freeze on raises for federal employees. Then Mr. McConnell agreed with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on the two-month extension financed by higher fees on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (meaning on mortgage borrowers), among other things. It passed with 89 votes and all but seven Republicans.
Senate Republicans say Mr. Boehner had signed off on the two-month extension, but House Members revolted over the weekend and so the Speaker flipped within 24 hours. Mr. Boehner is now demanding that Mr. Reid name conferees for a House-Senate conference on the payroll tax bills. But Mr. Reid and the White House are having too much fun blaming Republicans for "raising taxes on the middle class" as of January 1. Don't be surprised if they stretch this out to the State of the Union, when Mr. Obama will have a national audience to capture the tax issue.
If Republicans didn't want to extend the payroll tax cut on the merits, then they should have put together a strategy and the arguments for defeating it and explained why.
Source: Wall Street Journal