Speaker of the House John Boehner once again found himself between a rock and hard place as he tried to keep his GOP caucus happy while trying to find some middle ground with President Obama and Senate Democrats over extending the payroll tax cut.
In the end, Democrats were able to lay claim to a small victory.
On Friday morning, the Senate gave final approval to the bill on a procedural vote and President Obama is expected to sign the bill before joining his family in Hawaii for the Christmas holidays.
The culmination of the battle to extend the tax cut ended when Boehner agreed to the two-month extension after trying unsuccessfully to extend the cut for a year. The central issue keeping the two sides apart was politics.
As the wrangling over the payroll tax cut escalated, Republicans were beginning to feel pressure from all sides and specifically from those who were concerned that Democrats would gain the upper hand going into the 2012 elections.
“In the end House Republicans felt like they were reenacting the Alamo, with no reinforcements and our friends shooting at us,” GOP Congressman Kevin Brady of Texas told The Herald News.
As the Christmas holiday approached, Republicans increasingly found themselves backed into a corner wanted to avoid giving middle-income taxpayers what would be considered a tax increase on Jan. 1. Boehner attempted to pay his hand by forcing the issue to the last minute, but finally gave in after realizing time was no longer on his side.
“It may not have been politically the smartest thing in the world, but let me tell you what: I think our members waged a good fight,” Boehner told reporters after the agreement with Senate Democrats had been reached. “We were able to come to an agreement. We were able to fix what came out of the Senate.”
Similar to the budget deal passed this summer, Boehner doesn’t immediately know how much backlash he will get from the more conservative members of his caucus – many of whom are serving their first term in Congress.
However, some GOP freshmen are supporting the speaker and the two-month extension.
“As I have said from the beginning, I support extending the payroll tax cut for 160 million Americans,” said Rep. Chuck Fleischmann (R-Tenn.) in a statement. “Let’s be clear, the original bill passed by the House was in the best interest of the American people. However, there is only so much we can do when dealing with an obstructionist Senate and a president mostly concerned about his reelection.”
Meanwhile, Democrats are ecstatic at the success of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid over Boehner.
“The most important thing about the outcome of the battle over the payroll tax and unemployment is that it shifts the political momentum at a critical time, wrote Robert Creamer of Democracy Partners, a progressive think tank.
“We won’t know for sure until next November whether this moment will take on the same iconic importance as Clinton’s battle with Gingrich in 1995. But there is no doubt that the political wind has shifted. It is up to progressives to make the most of it.”
House and Senate members will convene after the first of the year to continue negotiations on extending the tax credit for the remainder of the year.