House GOP Plays into Obama’s Hands on Payroll Tax Extension

The two-month payroll tax extension the Senate approved and the House voted down today is by no means good policy. In fact, it’s a payroll-processing disaster. But if House Republicans were adamantly dead-set against the two-month extension, they could have made this clear at any point before the Senate vote on Saturday. Now that the Senate has left town for the holidays, demanding lawmakers return to negotiate a year-long payroll tax extension is a bit ridiculous:

Speaking minutes later at a press conference with dozens of GOP members behind him, House Speaker John Boehner said the House has already taken up the Senate bill, which only gives a $166 tax break to Americans, and opted instead for a bill that gives $1,000 to contributors to the Social Security fund.

House Republicans are insisting on a year-long extension of the break and want to force the Senate to return to Washington to hammer out a compromise.

Do House Republicans honestly expect Sen. Harry Reid to reconvene the Senate at this point? Especially when the House GOP’s brinkmanship plays completely into President Obama’s hands? If there was any doubt that Obama is thrilled with this development, here he is this afternoon dusting off his class warfare rhetoric to blast the House GOP for risking a middle-class tax hike:

In a surprise visit to the White House briefing room to demand House Republicans compromise on the legislation — a demand that was promptly rejected —  President Obama said Tuesday that the Senate bill “is the only viable way to prevent a tax hike on January 1st.”

“It’s the only one,” Obama said shortly after the House voted to effectively reject a Senate measure to extend the payroll tax cut for two months.

The behavior from House Republicans would be completely understandable — even laudable — if this was a serious ideological battle for conservatives. But it’s not –Speaker John Boehner and others seem to be opposing the two-month payroll tax extension on logistical grounds, arguing that a year-long extension would be easier to implement. House Republicans already won a victory by getting a provision to force Obama’s hand on Keystone XL included in the Senate bill. Aggressiveness is wonderful, but there comes a point when you need to know when to fold ’em.